Women with Asthma at Risk for Pregnancy Complications

by Colette Bouchez

Women who suffer with asthma are at greater risk for preeclampsia, but only if their symptoms flare during pregnancy. That's the important news reported in the September 2004 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The study, which looked at some 1,700 women -- 656 with asthma -- found that those women who suffered moderate to severe symptoms during their pregnancy were far more likely to develop preeclampsia than women who had no symptoms, or those who did not suffer from asthma.

"Our findings suggest that women with moderate to severe asthma symptoms, regardless of asthma diagnosis or treatment, are at increased risk of preeclampsia compared with women with no symptoms," says lead study author Elizabeth W. Triche, PhD, of the Center for Perinatal, Pediatric, and Environmental Epidemiology, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine.

These findings uphold an earlier study conducted at the Robert Woods Johnson School of Medicine in New Jersey, which also found asthma may increase the risk of other labor complications as well.

Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy-related condition often characterized by a rapid rise in blood pressure and body swelling, usually in the third trimester. If left untreated, preeclampsia can progress to eclampsia -- a condition that causes a rapid swelling in membrane that surrounds the brain, and sometimes-fatal seizures. The only known treatment for preeclampsia is immediate delivery, usually by C- section.

"Although it is a frightening condition that can be deadly, the good news is that when brought to your doctor's attention early on, you can still have a safe delivery and a healthy baby," says researcher Colette Bouchez, author of the new book Your Perfectly Pampered Pregnancy: Health, Beauty and Lifestyle Advice for The Modern Mother-To- Be (Broadway Books, NY 2004).

Asthma and Pregnancy: What To Do

Although asthma symptoms can be a bit more difficult to handle during pregnancy, according to Your Perfectly Pampered Pregnancy, there are ways to cope - and ensure that your baby is born healthy and strong!

According to Bouchez, the following can help:

  • Modify all lifestyle factors linked to asthma symptoms - including being scrupulously careful about any environmental factors that might trigger your asthma, such as exposure to dust and dander or especially cigarette smoke. Even if you haven't had an attack in years, says Bouchez, these factors can trigger problems during pregnancy, so be extra careful during this time.
  • If your pregnancy is taking place during the winter, consider a flu vaccine anytime after your third month, since respiratory infections can increase your asthma symptoms.
  • Watch your weight! Preeclampsia is also more likely to occur in women who gain too much weight during pregnancy, especially rapidly.
  • Talk to your doctor about treatment with 400 mg of vitamin E and 1,000 mg of vitamin C, daily. Numerous studies have shown this treatment is safe and may reduce the threat of preeclampsia in those at risk.
  • If asthma medication becomes necessary use it sparingly -- and only with an OK from your obstetrician. Most often, inhalers are the preferred treatment during pregnancy, but only your doctor will know if it's safe for you. The good news is that the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology say that the effects of inhaled asthma medications work locally with very little medication making it's way to your blood stream so, you don't have to worry about your baby being affected.

    Also considered safe: Most bronchodilator medications such as albuterol or metaproterenol -- as long as they are used on an emergency basis only. But again, check with your doctor before using any asthma medication during pregnancy.