For some women, vomiting and nausea lasts through the entirety of a pregnancy and can cause serious health risks.
For some women, vomiting and nausea lasts through the entirety of a pregnancy and can cause serious health risks. Contributed

Untreated asthma puts mums-to-be at risk

MUMS-to-be who have asthma and who don't continue preventer medication during pregnancy are more likely to have pregnancy complications or give birth prematurely, a new report warns.

Asthma is one of the most common chronic conditions affecting pregnant women in Australia, yet little is known about how many continue to use their preventer medication while pregnant, according to a paper by the Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring (ACAM), published today.

The report that compiled research evidence from around the world, found that women who don't take prescribed preventer medicines are at increased risk of developing hypertension and pre-eclampsia, giving birth early or having an underweight newborn.

The good news, according to Professor Guy Marks, one of the report authors and Head, Respiratory & Environmental Epidemiology at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, is that women with asthma can effectively control their symptoms and prevent any exacerbations with good care during pregnancy.

"In fact, if asthma is well controlled during pregnancy, as is recommended, the outcomes for the woman and her baby are no different than for women who do not have asthma," Mr Marks said. "And it's certainly safer than risking going without preventer medication at all."

The problem, says Mr Marks, is that there is currently no nationally-consistent collection of asthma-management information in pregnant women.

"We've got these clinical guidelines which outline best practice but we really don't know how many women are sticking to them, or how well, in order to best protect them and their babies," Mr Marks said.

Studies of pregnant women in Western Australia, Newcastle and Melbourne suggest about 12 per cent have asthma. Many will continue to take their medication but some women, and some health professionals, have concerns about potential adverse effects, and are not necessarily aware of the dangers that non-treatment can pose. 

The report, published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), makes a case for population-level monitoring of pregnant women with the inflammatory lung condition. It recommends affected women have their condition reviewed in the first trimester of pregnancy, with checks every four to six weeks thereafter.

Better data collection would also help paint a clearer picture of who is getting care and who is missing out, Mr Marks said.

"The problems and solutions that we identify along the way could also be used to help with the management of other common chronic diseases, like diabetes and epilepsy, that can be troublesome in pregnancy," Mr Marks said.

The web-based report, entitled "Monitoring Asthma in Pregnancy: A Discussion Paper", is available via AIHW and ACAM.

Asthma in Pregnancy

  • Asthma is one of the most common chronic disorders affecting pregnant women. About 12 per cent of pregnant women have the condition
  • Current clinical guidelines recommend women continue to take their medication throughout pregnancy 
  • If untreated, asthma can be unpredictable in pregnancy. It has been linked to complications like preeclampsia and premature birth
  • Little is known about how well Australian women are adhering to medication while they're with child
  • Better health monitoring and data gathering would shed much-needed light on how the condition is being managed, who is missing out, and what the effects are on mums and babies