By: Laurie Edwards for Uterus1
For pregnant women with asthma, finding a balance between treating their disease and protecting their babies can be tricky. What’s worse – asthma treatments or asthma flares?
| Keys to a successful pregnancy considering asthma: |
Look at the numbers: As a general rule, 1/3 of asthmatic women experience improvement while pregnant, 1/3 experience no major change in symptoms and 1/3 experience a worsening of symptoms.
Uncontrolled asthma can cause low birth weight and premature birth in babies; it can cause preeclampsia in mothers.
If you can’t exercise of sleep through the night without symptoms interfering, these are signs your asthma is not under control.
If possible, try to find a specialist who can manage both your pregnancy and your asthma.
Fortunately, there is a clear answer here: Research shows that the risks of uncontrolled asthma for both women and their unborn babies are much greater than the risks asthma medications pose.
According to experts, the key is to first establish control of asthma symptoms through medications and once symptoms abate, work with physicians to decrease the medications. Understanding common asthma triggers and avoiding them is also essential.
More than 17 million Americans suffer from asthma, a disease that causes inflammation of the airways, difficulty breathing, and wheezing.
“Asthma is the most common chronic illness that complicates pregnancy,” said University of Newcastle’s Vanessa Murphy, PhD, and her colleagues. Their study, recently published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that women often had severe asthma flares during pregnancy, especially those with severe asthma to begin with.
When asthma is under control, women don’t experience more pregnancy or delivery complications than non-asthmatics. Signs of uncontrolled asthma include not being able to be physically active without experiencing symptoms, waking during the night because of breathing problems and not being able to maintain personal best peak flow readings, which measure output of air.
Acute asthma flares reduce the level of oxygen the baby receives. This can lead to premature birth or low birth weight. In addition, women with asthma complications tended to gain less weight, which can negatively impact nutrition and fetal growth.
“This is greater than the risk of maternal smoking during pregnancy,” wrote Murphy and colleagues, whose subjects included women with mild, moderate and severe asthma.
For mothers, uncontrolled asthma increases the chance of developing preeclampsia, a dangerous and sometimes fatal condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
Of the 146 women in the study, 55 percent reported a worsening of their condition, meaning they were admitted to the hospital, needed to visit the emergency room, or had to make an unplanned trip to their physician’s office. Of the women reporting a worsening, 65 percent of them were classified as having severe asthma.
So what can you do to reduce the likelihood of asthma flares no matter how severe your condition is? The first step is control your environment by minimizing exposure to common asthma triggers including mold, dust mites, pollen, pet dander and smoke. You know your body best and can identify what usually sets off your symptoms, so be extra vigilant when you’re expecting.
Next, monitor your asthma medications carefully. Stick with the medications that have worked well for you in the past and if symptoms increase, work with your physician to temporarily increase dosages to prevent an acute flare – you can taper them down again once control is re-established.
Keep up with daily peak flow readings, which can indicate changes in asthma status before the onset of a flare. Regular appointments with your physician and spirometry tests also help monitor pulmonary health.
Since moderate exercise is beneficial for mother and baby alike but can trigger symptoms in some asthmatics, tailor an exercise regimen with your physician and be sure to have your “rescue” or fast-acting inhalers on hand should bronchospasms result.
Above all, remember that the better your asthma symptoms are, the better your baby’s health. Taking preventative steps and continuing with medical treatment is the best way to prevent flares and the risks they pose.
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