Asthma symptoms, severity, and drug therapy: a prospective study of effects on 2205 pregnancies

Obstet Gynecol. 2003 Oct;102(4):739-52. doi: 10.1016/s0029-7844(03)00621-5.


Objective: To prospectively examine in pregnant women whether asthma or asthma therapy influenced preterm delivery, intrauterine grown restriction (IUGR), or birthweight.

Methods: We enrolled 873 pregnant women with a history of asthma, of whom 778 experienced asthma symptoms or took medication, and 1333 women with no asthma history, including 884 women with neither asthma diagnosis nor symptoms and 449 with symptoms but no diagnosis. Asthma symptoms, medication, and severity were classified according to 2002 Global Initiative for Asthma guidelines.

Results: Preterm delivery was not associated with asthma diagnosis, severity, or symptoms but was associated with use of controller medications, independent of symptoms, specifically oral steroids and theophylline. Gestation was reduced by 2.22 weeks in women using oral steroids daily (P =.001) and 1.11 weeks after theophylline (P =.002). We observed a 24% (5-47%) increased risk for IUGR with each increased symptom step, which increased further in symptomatic women with no asthma diagnosis (31%, 4-65%) compared with women with neither asthma nor symptoms.

Conclusions: We found no effect of asthma symptoms or severity on preterm delivery but observed increased risks associated with use of oral steroid and theophylline. Intrauterine growth restriction was associated with asthma severity, which possibly reflects a hypoxic fetal effect. Women with asthma symptoms but no diagnosis were at particular risk of undermedication and delivering IUGR infants. These observations support guidelines that advocate active management of pregnant patients with mild or moderate asthma with beta(2) agonists, with oral steroids added only if severity increases. Symptomatic patients without an asthma diagnosis might need to be equally managed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / adverse effects
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Birth Weight
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Connecticut / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / etiology
  • Fetal Membranes, Premature Rupture / etiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Massachusetts / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology
  • Pregnancy Complications / pathology
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Steroids
  • Theophylline / adverse effects


  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Steroids
  • Theophylline