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Asthma During Pregnancy: Complications and Prevention

Asthma during pregnancy is a risky disease for both the fetus and the mother. Specialists estimate that between 3 and 6% of the world’s population has asthma, making it a very common occurrence.

Asthma consists of a blockage of the smallest parts of the airways. This obstruction makes it difficult for the body to perform respiratory mechanics, especially when exhaling, and the cause is the inflammation of the small bronchi.

Among pregnant women, asthma is the respiratory disease that most often complicates a pregnancy, as noted in this study published in the American Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. According to statistics, between 4 and 7% of pregnant women have complications associated with asthma at some stage of pregnancy, although they’re very unlikely to appear during delivery.

The worst moment of the pregnancy for asthma is usually between 17 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is at the end of the second trimester. During this period, specialists have recorded a noticeable increase in pregnant women who seek emergency services for this issue. On the contrary, the least number of visits for asthma are in the last month before delivery.

Consequences of asthma in pregnancy

In the mother

If the pregnant asthmatic isn’t properly controlled, complications may arise in the mother’s health. The most serious situation is the lack of oxygen. The oxygen that the mother has circulating in her blood is the one she shares with her baby, and the decrease in her income will affect both of them.

As evidenced by this research published in the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, asthma in pregnancy can cause the following in the mother:

  • Hyperemesis gravidarum: it’s the appearance of intense and long-lasting vomiting. It’s not the typical morning sickness of the first trimester. Here the episodes are frequent and cause weight loss.
  • Preeclampsia: this is also called toxemia of pregnancy. It’s a syndrome that increases the mother’s blood pressure, causing fluid retention edema and loss of protein in the urine (proteinuria).
  • Gestational hypertension: This is the increase of tension in the pregnant woman.
  • Premature birth: Although it’s not common for asthma symptoms to appear during the time of delivery, labor can arrive early because of asthma.

In the baby

And in the baby, pregnancy during asthma can cause:

  • Intrauterine growth restriction: A constant lack of sufficient oxygen causes the fetus to grow more slowly, so it may be smaller than expected for its gestational age.
  • Low birth weight: Associated with intrauterine growth restriction, it’s a baby that arrives at the time of delivery without sufficient weight.
  • Neonatal hypoxemia: At the time of delivery, the baby may have an insufficient supply of oxygen to cause it to be born with symptoms of lack of oxygen. The baby will require intensive neonatal care with external oxygen supplementation.
  • Increased perinatal mortality: Uncontrolled asthma in pregnancy increases the risk of the baby dying.

Medication for asthma during pregnancy

During the pregnancy, it’s important for you and your professional to determine which medication you can take according to your needs. Not all medicine is safe for the mother and the baby. Therefore, medical advice is essential.

For asthma, most medications have proven not to be harmful to the pregnant woman. In fact, it’s assumed that uncontrolled asthma during pregnancy is more dangerous than the possible adverse effects of the medication the mother-to-be may take. This is even pointed out by this article published in the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

In some asthmatic people, desensitization injections are used for allergies in order to reduce the episodes of asthmatic crisis. If the pregnant woman started these injections before she became pregnant, then she should continue them. But it’s contraindicated to start them once the pregnancy starts.

Once the baby is born, there aren’t problems with breastfeeding. Moreover, specialists encourage asthmatic women who have recently become mothers to keep taking their medication while they’re breastfeeding.

How to prevent complications

There are basic steps that women with asthma in pregnancy can take to reduce their risks. This is always accompanied by professional advice and appropriate medication as determined by the doctors.

Here are some preventive measures you should take into account:

  • Don’t smoke: Tobacco complicates and worsens asthma, and increases the risk of congenital syndromes in the fetus.
  • Control triggers: Asthma responds as an acute attack to certain substances that are best avoided. Among them, we can name environments with dust or powder, cigarette smoke, and the fur of some animals.
  • Respect the check-ups: Pregnant asthmatic women require a more intensive check-up with the doctors than those programmed for a normal risk pregnancy.
  • Take the medication according to instructions: According to the medical indication, pregnant women with asthma should respect the medicine schedule and quantity. Never self-medicate in these circumstances.
  • Be aware of the warning signs: The doctor will provide the pregnant woman with a list of symptoms that would indicate the need to quickly visit a doctor’s office. Those symptoms are usually lack of air, an intense cough that becomes chronic and fever, among others.
  • Control gastroesophageal reflux: It’s common for pregnant women to have gastroesophageal reflux disease. The problem is that reflux can intensify asthma symptoms. Therefore, pregnant women with asthma should take home measures such as raising the head of the bed and separating daily meals into smaller parts. They could also delay their usual sleep schedule to allow about 2 or 3 hours since dinner, as well as avoiding foods that trigger reflux.

About asthma during pregnancy

Asthma during pregnancy carries significant risks for both mother and fetus. Therefore, if a pregnant woman has asthma, it’s important to consult a doctor and follow the recommended treatment. In addition, it’s advisable to be aware of any symptoms that indicate a complication.

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