Cold or Flu During Pregnancy and Miscarriage

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Winter is, of course, cold season and it can be hard to avoid catching a virus during those months. Should pregnant women be especially worried about common winter viruses? Could a cold or flu cause harm to a baby or trigger a miscarriage? Find out more below. 

Cold and Flu Viruses and Miscarriage Risk

Although cold and flu viruses can certainly make you uncomfortable (especially if you're pregnant and certain medications are off-limits), they aren't likely to cause miscarriage.

During the 1918 flu pandemic, the influenza virus clearly played a role in miscarriages. It's thought that one in 10 pregnant women had early miscarriages during that time, over and above what would be considered the expected incidence. A century later, a review of 100 studies of influenza in pregnancy found that especially when pregnant women developed complications from influenza, they were at risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm birth.

Having a fever during pregnancy (a temperature that's higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) is linked with an increased miscarriage risk. If you do catch the flu, your doctor may advise you to keep your fever well controlled with Tylenol (acetaminophen) while you are sick. Remember: Always ask your doctor before taking any over-the-counter pill while you're pregnant because many—like Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), Dayquil (acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, phenylephrine), Aleve (naproxen), Advil (ibuprofen), Motrin (ibuprofen), Bayer (aspirin), and Excedrin (aspirin, paracetamol, caffeine)—are not considered safe.

Other Pregnancy Concerns Beyond Miscarriage

It's important to note that the flu does carry other concerns for pregnant women. During the 2009 H1N1 flu (swine flu) pandemic, for example, women who contracted the flu while pregnant had an increased risk of premature birth, infant death, and intensive care unit admissions.

Should Pregnant Women Get the Flu Vaccine?

The flu vaccination has been studied extensively and does not appear to pose any risk with regard to miscarriage. Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend the flu vaccine for all pregnant women, at any point in pregnancy. This is because the vaccine protects not only the women themselves, which is valuable, but also their babies, who are born with some protection against flu viruses.

The Difference Between Cold and Flu

A cold and the flu can cause similar symptoms, even though they're triggered by different viruses. Symptoms of both may include fever, fatigue, body aches, and dry cough. With a cold, a person is more likely to have rhinorrhea (a stuffy and runny nose). Furthermore, colds usually don't have the potential to lead to more serious problems that would result in hospitalization, such as pneumonia or more severe bacterial infections. With the flu, symptoms usually hit suddenly and they're typically more severe. 

Based on your symptoms alone, your physician may have trouble distinguishing cold from flu because they're both so similar. However, special tests can be done to distinguish between them.

Risk Factors

Although anyone is at risk of catching the flu, the flu is more common among the following patient populations:

  • Pregnant women
  • Older people
  • Children
  • People with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma or heart disease

Complications

Fortunately, most people who get the flu recover after a few days. However, some people do develop pneumonia, a serious lung infection that can sometimes be deadly. Other respiratory infections can result from the flu, including bronchitis and sinusitis. The flu can also result in an ear infection (the middle ear is connected to the respiratory tract).

The flu can also exacerbate other illness. For example, the flu can make asthma worse and serve as a trigger for asthma attacks. Additionally, the flu can make heart failure worse.

Prevention

There are some key steps that you can take to lower your risk of catching a cold or the flu. For instance, avoid close contact with people who are sick, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and disinfect things that you touch a lot (like your phone, your computer, doorknobs). Of course, general health habits like getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, being active, managing stress, and staying hydrated can all boost your immune system and help you fend off disease.

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