Treating Asthma During Pregnancy: Choosing the Right Medicine

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Summary & Participants

Drugs receive special scrutiny for safety when used by pregnant women. How do the drugs used to control asthma compare? Listen in as experts explain.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2009

Webcast Transcript

ANNOUNCER: Doctors say its extremely important for women with asthma to treat their disease especially when pregnant.

EMILY DIMANGO, MD: The risks to the mother of not treating asthma have been well-documented. And those risks are serious. They can cause medical problems among the mother and medical problems among the baby.

ANNOUNCER: There are two major categories of asthma, each requiring different treatment strategies. Intermittent asthma requires treatment only during flare-ups. Persistent asthma needs chronic medication.

EMILY DIMANGO, MD: People who have asthma symptoms are indicating that there's untreated airway inflammation, and that brings us to the class of inhaled corticosteroids. Those drugs combat the inflammation, and it is the inflammation that causes asthma.

RUSSELL SETTIPANE, MD: It is those patients who have persistent asthma who need to be on chronic controller medications. The persistent asthma is the asthma where these symptoms are occurring more than twice a week: symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing occurring more than twice a week. Or if those symptoms are severe to wake the patient from sleep more than twice a month. That is persistent asthma and we need to use controller medications.

ANNOUNCER: What about safety? Women who are pregnant have a special reason for concern, because some medications can harm a fetus.

MICHAEL SCHATZ, MD: Probably the most important aspect of treating asthma in pregnancy and certainly in working with the patient is trying to balance the risk of not treating against the risk of treating.

ANNOUNCER: Doctors say they feel very comfortable prescribing inhaled medications to counter occasional asthma attacks. The quick-relief drugs, often called "rescue" medicines, have been used for twenty years. And research supports the widespread view that they are safe.

MICHAEL SCHATZ, MD: In the rescue therapy category are the beta agonists -- the inhaled beta agonists such as albuterol -- which do relieve symptoms quickly and people feel comfortable using during pregnancy based on the fact that they've been around a while and there is some human data that's reported. In general, we always feel more comfortable with inhaled medicines during pregnancy versus oral medicines, because less is likely to get to the baby.

ANNOUNCER: Safety issues are especially important with medicines used for the more chronic control of asthma, because the fetus is potentially exposed to those drugs for a longer time.

ALLAN STILLERMAN, MD: The FDA, the Food & Drug Administration categorizes drugs according to their level of risk. Firstly, controlled animal data is reviewed and if available, human data as well as to how these drugs impact on the developing fetus, particularly when taken in the first trimester of pregnancy when the risk for fetal malformations is greatest.

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