Improvement in airway responsiveness and asthma severity during pregnancy. A prospective study

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1989 Oct;140(4):924-31. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/140.4.924.


In the myometrium and gut, smooth muscle becomes less contractile during pregnancy, probably because of the effect of progesterone and estrogen. It is not known whether these hormones cause similar changes in airway smooth muscle, and therefore, this study examined airway responsiveness during the large hormonal changes of pregnancy and evaluated whether changes in responsiveness are associated with changes in (1) progesterone and estrogen and (2) the clinical severity of asthma. Twenty nonpregnant asthmatic women were assessed every 3 months until conception. In the 16 who conceived, assessments were repeated once during the second and third trimesters and 1 month after delivery. Data collected preconception and from those who did not conceive within 1 yr were used for control subjects. There was a 2-fold improvement in airway responsiveness during pregnancy from a preconception mean PC20 0.35 to 0.72 mg/ml during the second trimester and 0.58 mg/ml during the third (p = 0.03). Post-delivery responsiveness (0.48 mg/ml) was not significantly different from preconception. The improvements during pregnancy were greater than the 3 monthly fluctuations when not pregnant (p = 0.04) and were greatest in those who were most hyperresponsive initially (p = 0.01). There was an associated improvement in clinical asthma severity as indicated by a reduction in minimum medication requirements (p = 0.03) and this was not at the expense of good symptoms control; both symptoms and spirometry remained unchanged during pregnancy. Changes in responsiveness were not closely related to progesterone or estriol, suggesting that other nonhormonal factors may also contribute to the improvement during pregnancy and that the control of asthmatic airway smooth muscle may not be exactly the same as that of the myometrium and gut.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / blood
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Estriol / blood
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Methacholine Compounds
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / blood
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology*
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Prospective Studies
  • Random Allocation
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*
  • Vital Capacity / physiology


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Methacholine Compounds
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Progesterone
  • Estriol