Even with a COPD diagnosis, pregnant women might still maintain a certain degree of lung health. There are a few treatment options available to help with lung health during pregnancy.
COPD Overview and Effect on Lung Health
COPD is an acronym for a potentially serious medical problem known as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. The condition does not describe one malady in particular but refers to several progressive lung ailments causing blocked breathing passages. Ailments fitting the COPD category include emphysema, severe asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Typically, COPD-related maladies are precipitated by chronic or excessive exposure to allergens, toxins or irritants that infiltrate the lungs and result in inflammation. Over time, this irritation can damage pulmonary tissue leading to progressive damage. Specific lung irritants can include airborne allergens that are routinely inhaled, as well as chemicals found in products such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes and cigars. Rarely, a genetic flaw that elicits a deficiency of certain proteins might also precipitate or exacerbate COPD-related problems.
Associated physical manifestations may vary depending on the individual’s age, general health, the specific condition and the severity of the malady. In many instances, early stage COPD precipitates few, if any symptoms.
However, as the disease progresses, afflicted persons might experience a persistent cough, production and expectoration of increased quantities of mucus, breathing difficulties that are often exacerbated with physical exertion, chest pains and an increased potential for developing upper respiratory ailments like the common, cold, flu and bacterial infections. In severe instances, people might experience extreme wheezing or gasping for air, swelling of the extremities, an elevated pulse rate, the inability to engage in exercise, unintended weight loss and increased susceptibility to developing a more serious lung infection, pneumonia.
Naturally, as pregnancy progresses, women gain weight and girth. Increased weight or size places additional pressure on the respiratory system. In the presence of moderate to severe COPD-related illness, the weight gain can worsen already existing symptoms. Furthermore, reduced oxygen capacity has the potential to threaten the unborn child’s wellbeing and leave the fetus at greater risk of developing serious health problems like birth defects.
Potential Treatment Options
At present, COPD has no known cure. However, diagnosed individuals, especially pregnant women, can engage in certain activities that might lessen symptoms or slow the specific offending ailment’s progression:
- Avoid Cigarette Smoke at All Costs – One would hope an expecting woman would refrain from smoking during her term. However, quitting the habit might not be enough. Should she be diagnosed with a COPD-related disorder, exposure to cigarette smoke must be avoided at all times. This means avoiding friends and relatives who smoke (or asking them to refrain from the habit while in their presence), steering clear of establishments where smoking is likely to occur and sitting in non-smoking areas of any institution that offers such luxuries.
- Use Specific Medications- Sometimes, medications such as bronchodilators (which open restricted lung passages) might provide a certain degree of symptom relief. While they may be helpful, expecting women are strongly advised to discuss the use of any type of medication with their doctor as such drugs might exert negative effects on their unborn children.
- Obtain Frequent Medical Evaluations – As pregnancy can complicate COPD-related illnesses and potentially threaten unborn babies, women in question are strongly advised to obtain frequent medical evaluations from their family physicians or from pulmonologists, experts on lung function and diseases. They can measure lung function during the expecting mother’s term and promptly address any new or emerging problems.