Pregnant with Asthma?
Asthma is probably the most common, potentially serious medical problem that occurs during pregnancy. Some studies have suggested that asthma complicates up to seven percent of all pregnancies. However, with appropriate treatment and care, the prognosis for a successful pregnancy is outstanding.
When asthma exists in pregnant women, there may be a somewhat greater risk of delivering prematurely, or delivering an infant of low birth weight. High blood pressure problems – hypertension or a related condition known as pre-eclampsia – have also been diagnosed more frequently in pregnant women with more severe asthma than in their more healthy counterparts. But physicians are yet uncertain to what degree the uncontrolled asthma directly provokes these problems, or whether other circumstances are more involved. However, current information suggests that optimal control of asthma during pregnancy is the best way to minimize the risk of complications.
Uncontrolled Asthma and the Fetus
Uncontrolled asthma causes a decrease in the oxygen content of the mother’s blood. Since the fetus gets its oxygen from the mother’s blood, this condition leads to decreased oxygen in the fetal blood. The result may be impaired fetal growth and survival since the fetus requires a constant supply of oxygen for normal growth and development. There is evidence that adequate control of asthma during pregnancy reduces the chances of death of the fetus or newborn infant and improves fetal growth inside the uterus.
Studies suggest that asthma may complicate some pregnancies. However, with proper asthma control, you can have a safe pregnancy and successful delivery.
There are no indications that asthma in the pregnant woman contributes to either spontaneous abortion or congenital malformation of the fetus.
Changes in Severity of Asthma during
Medical experts believe that about one-third of pregnant women with asthma will experience increased symptoms during the pregnancy; another third will remain the same; and yet another third will experience a lessening of symptoms. Most pregnant asthmatic women whose symptoms change in one way or another will return to their pre-pregnancy condition within three months after giving birth. There is a tendency, though, for women whose asthma symptoms increase or decrease during one pregnancy to experience the same pattern in subsequent pregnancies.
It is difficult to predict in an individual woman the direction or degree of change in her asthma symptoms during pregnancy. Because of this uncertainty, her asthma should be followed closely so that any change can be promptly matched with an appropriate change in therapy. This is a good reason for professional teamwork between the woman’s obstetrician and an allergy specialist, the latter having particular knowledge and “tools” to manage and control the asthma.
Significant asthma symptoms – including asthma attacks – almost never occur during labor and delivery in women who have properly cared for their asthma during their pregnancies. Also, most asthmatic women are able to perform Lamaze breathing techniques during their labor without any difficulty.
Effective Self-Management during
Avoiding the conditions that trigger asthma is always important, but is particularly important during pregnancy. Women should increase avoidance measures in order to gain maximum comfort with a minimum of medication. Giving up cigarette smoking is very important since maternal smoking may make the asthma worse and directly affects the health of the growing fetus. Also, minimizing contact with people who have respiratory infections – and avoiding allergens such as dust mites, animal dander, pollen, and cockroach debris – is recommended during pregnancy.
Asthma Medications during Pregnancy
A number of asthma medications are considered “safe” for the pregnant woman because their risks appear to be less than the risks of uncontrolled asthma. These include inhaled bronchodilators, cromolyn sodium, and beclomethasone, all of which have a local – not system-wide – effect. Theophylline is also considered appropriate during pregnancy if asthma is not adequately controlled by the above medications. Finally, oral steroid medications, such as prednisone, should be used when necessary for severe asthma during pregnancy.
If allergy shots are part of the ongoing therapy for the asthmatic woman who has become pregnant, they can usually be continued if no systemic reactions to the shots are being experienced. As an extra precaution, though, the dosage of the allergy extract being used may be reduced somewhat in order to decrease the chance that a severe allergic reaction might occur during the pregnancy.
Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Winter 2009-2010.