Asthma affects about 3 to 4 percent of the general population, while about 1 to 4 percent of pregnancies are complicated by asthma. By definition, asthma is a chronic inflammatory airway disorder with a major hereditary component. It is caused by tightening of muscles around the airways associated with swelling of the airway lining and increased mucus production.
Most asthmatics will go asymptomatic for extended periods of time. They usually get asthma attacks only when they are exposed to triggers such as known allergens (e.g. dust, peanuts, change in environment temperature, etc.) or exercise-induced. When this happens, asthmatics experience difficulty of breathing, coughing, wheezing, very rapid breathing, chest pain or pressure, tightening of neck and chest muscles, pale sweaty face, and bluish discoloration of lips and nails.
The question of whether pregnancy could make asthma worse has not been satisfactorily countered. Up to this date, there is no clear answer to this question. For some women their asthma improves, for some it stays the same, while others, their asthma get worse. But in general, women beginning pregnancy with severe asthma are more likely to experience worsening of asthma symptoms than those with mild disease.
Now, just because you have asthma does not mean you can’t have a normal pregnancy, much more a healthy baby. Doctors agree that good asthma control is the key to a successful pregnancy. And good asthma control can be attained if pregnant asthmatics see their doctors (both internist and obstetrician) regularly throughout the entire pregnancy. Here is what you should do:
- Work with your asthma doctor (allergist or internist). This is important so that your doctor can assess how severe your asthma is, and he can give treatment appropriate for you while you are pregnant. If you are currently using an asthma controller medication, it is best to tell your doctor about it so necessary adjustments can be done.
- Identify your asthma triggers. Always keep a note of what triggers your asthma attack and avoid those triggers as much as you can. This is the best prevention for asthma attacks.
- Make sure your asthma doctor and your obstetrician coordinate your care. In this way, double medication for asthma is avoided.
A lot of scientific studies have shown that if your asthma is not controlled during pregnancy, both you and your baby can be harmed. You may suffer from life-threatening complications such as high blood pressure, eclampsia, preterm labor, pneumothorax, acute cor pulmonale, cardiac arrythmias, and muscle fatigue with respiratory arrest. Your baby, on the other hand, may be born prematurely, with a low birth weight, and increased risk for perinatal mortality.
In summary, being an asthmatic does not mean you will be deprived of the opportunity to experience a normal and healthy pregnancy. More than that, asthma is practically never a reason not to get pregnant. It is should always be remembered that it is medically feasible for any pregnant asthmatic to have a healthy pregnancy, as long as she has good control of her asthma throughout the pregnancy.