Approximately 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, a chronic, inflammatory lung disease characterized by recurrent breathing problems. It is the most common, potentially serious medical problem that can complicate pregnancy, and affects about eight percent of all pregnant women. Despite the statistics, if a mother-to-be is vigilant about her care and closely monitored by her doctors, asthma can be controlled during pregnancy, posing little or no risk to mother or child. (But if the asthma is not properly controlled, it can threaten the lives of both mother and child.)
If you are asthmatic and expecting a baby, here's how you can keep your health in check and ensure a smooth pregnancy and delivery.
How Pregnancy Affects Asthma
Some asthmatic women experience a worsening of symptoms during pregnancy (most likely due to hormonal changes), while others find that their asthma problems remain the same or even decrease in severity. Asthma tends to worsen in the late second and early third trimesters as the baby grows larger.
"A small number of women with no prior asthma problems will experience their first asthma attacks while pregnant," says Dr. Michael Schatz, MD, president of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), although the reasons for this are unknown. Dr. Schatz notes that asthma that worsens during pregnancy usually improves post-partum, but there is less information available on women who first develop asthma while pregnant.
How Asthma Affects Pregnancy
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), pregnant asthmatic women are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a disorder that occurs when high blood pressure is accompanied by fluid retention and leaking of protein into the mother's urine. This condition can potentially damage the kidneys, brain, liver, and eyes. If preeclampsia results in seizures, it can be deadly for both the mother and baby. "Asthma doubles a woman's chances of delivering pre-term and increases the risk of delivering a baby with low birth weight, slow growth, or of having a stillbirth," says Dr. Schatz.