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The Use of Asthma Medication During Pregnancy

written by: bjlbyron • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/17/2010

If you are asthmatic and pregnant, it is absolutely critical to your unborn baby's health that you treat your asthma properly to minimize, if not eliminate, risk to the child. This article provides information that an asthmatic mother-to-be needs to know regarding asthma medication in pregnancy.

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    The Problem of Asthma And Pregnancy

    If you are asthmatic, you know that it is essential to your well-being that you treat your asthma symptoms fully and properly. Some pregnant women who are asthmatic, however, may feel that it is safer to neglect treating their symptoms than it is to risk the health of their fetus by taking asthma medication in pregnancy. Unfortunately, not only does failing to treat asthma compromise their own health, it in fact presents a greater danger to the fetus than do asthma medications (when taken properly as specially prescribed for pregnant women).

    Serious maternal complications that can arise when asthma is not properly treated during pregnancy include preeclampsia, hypertension, vaginal hemorrhage, toxemia, and induced and problematic labors, to name a few. Dangers to the fetus include risk of death, growth retardation, premature birth, and decreased birth weight, among other problems. Pregnant women who are asthmatic therefore absolutely must treat their asthma and do so in an intelligent manner.

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    Medicine Considerations For The Woman Who Is Both Pregnant And Asthmatic

    Woman who are asthmatic and pregnant should do all they can to avoid the particular triggers that typically set off their asthma symptoms. After all, it is better to not have these symptoms than it is to have to treat them. However, at times when asthma symptoms do arise in these women, they should take comfort in knowing that medical science has devised safe and effective treatment options for them.

    One such treatment option is the drug albuterol, which is inhaled and which provides fast relief to common allergy symptoms, such as wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath, for example, by helping to relax muscles that constrict the airways during an asthma attack. Due to its proven safety and effectiveness, the National Institutes of Health highly recommends that asthmatic women carry this drug with them at all times throughout their pregnancy.

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    Medicine Considerations For The Woman Who Is Both Pregnant And Asthmatic (Continued)

    Another treatment option is corticosteroids, which should be inhaled in low doses. In particular, the corticosteroid budesonide has been shown to be particularly safe for treating asthma in pregnant women, but it also should be noted that no particular inhaled corticosteroid has been shown to be unsafe. However, there is some data that suggests that oral forms of corticosteroids may pose health problems to a mother and her fetus, but not everyone agrees that oral forms are unsafe. For these reasons, oral forms of corticosteroids may be prescribed to pregnant women (again, the biggest health threat is to let asthma symptoms go untreated), but this is usually done only as a last resort after other medicines have been tried without success.

    If low doses of an inhaled corticosteroid are ineffective at treating symptoms, either the dosage should be increased or a long-acting beta agonist should be substituted as the drug of choice. Beta agonists, which are available in both oral and inhaled forms, open airways by relaxing the muscles that flank the airways.

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    A Final Word About Treating Asthma During Pregnancy

    It is important to further note that the above-mentioned considerations apply not only when a woman is pregnant, but also during the entire period that she breastfeeds her child. If you are pregnant and have asthma, it is urged that you contact your doctor right away to devise a treatment course that will safely and effectively treat your symptoms. This article is meant only to provide some basic information regarding taking asthma medication in pregnancy, it is not meant to replace to any extent the sound advice of your doctor.

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    References

    C. Nelson-Piercy, Asthma in Pregnancy, Thorax 56:325-328 (2001). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1746013/pdf/v056p00325.pdf

    National Asthma Education Program, National Institutes of Health, Management Of Asthma During Pregnancy: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/lung/asthma/astpreg.txt

    NIH News, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, New Treatment Guidelines for Pregnant Women with Asthma: Monitoring and Managing Asthma Important for Healthy Mother and Baby. http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/jan2005/nhlbi-11.htm