Pregnancy is said to be the most beautiful period in a woman's life. However, it is often riddled with many complications as well. Due to the fact that a woman's immune system becomes weaker while pregnant, many infections and diseases have a higher chance of striking at this time period. One such condition is that of pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious lung infection and if it happens during pregnancy, it is known as maternal pneumonia. The condition usually occurs as a complication of either the flu or the common cold, causing the infection to spread to the lungs. Unlike what you may think, pneumonia is actually quite common amongst pregnant women who have a history of some respiratory disease or those who smoke. So if you come down with pneumonia during pregnancy, let's find out what to do.

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Pregnancy Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a lung infection that occurs as a result of complications of the flu or the common cold. When the infection spreads to the lungs, this is known as pneumonia. Maternal pneumonia is a term used for pneumonia during pregnancy. It can either affect one lung or both the lungs and is known to be very dangerous for the fetus. In fact, maternal pneumonia is one of the most common infections conditions that cause fatalities in newborns around the world. Therefore, if you feel like you have pneumonia, then you need to seek medical help immediately.

Pneumonia is caused primarily by bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. When a person has pneumonia, the air sacs of the lungs become inflamed due to pus or fluid. The reason maternal pneumonia is considered to be extremely dangerous is due to the physiological changes that occur in a pregnant woman. Therefore, pregnant women having pneumonia need a higher degree of surveillance and intervention.

Symptoms of Pregnancy Pneumonia

If you are suffering from a cold or the flu, you need to be very careful and watch for these common symptoms that indicate you might be having pneumonia. The severity of these symptoms depends on what type of bacteria or virus is causing pneumonia, and also on your age and overall health. The major symptoms of maternal pneumonia include:

The symptoms do not differ depending on which trimester of your pregnancy you are in. However, the further along you are in your pregnancy, the more apparent and aware of the symptoms you will become.

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If you are having a cold or the flu, then your doctor will become especially alert if you report any incidence of persistent or a worsening cough, nasal stuffiness and phlegm, nasal discharge, and difficulty in breathing. Shortness of breath is a confusing symptom because, during pregnancy, dyspnea is often considered to be normal and physiologic. However, even if you feel short of breath, do not disregard the symptom thinking it is normal to feel like this during pregnancy. You should always report it to your doctor, who will be able to guide you best regarding whether or not you need any medical intervention.

What Are The Causes of Pregnancy Pneumonia?

Pregnancy puts you at a higher risk of developing pneumonia and as discussed above, this happens because your immune system is already suppressed when you are pregnant. Your body suppresses the immune system so as to prevent the developing fetus from being rejected and also because your body needs to focus all resources on the growing baby. This is why while pregnant; women become more susceptible to catching a cold or coming down with the flu. Reduced lung capacity is also another reason why you become more susceptible to the complications arising from cold or flu, such as maternal pneumonia.

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Pneumonia is caused by the flu virus or a bacterial infection, which spreads to either one or both of the lungs. Some of the common bacteria which cause pneumonia include:

  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae

Pregnancy Pneumonia is also caused by some viral infections and complications from other conditions, such as:

  • Chicken pox (varicella)
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Influenza or the flu

Furthermore, if you suffer from any of these following conditions or if you smoke, then you are at a much higher risk of contracting maternal pneumonia.

  • If you have asthma or if you are anemic
  • If you have an underlying chronic illness
  • If you work with young children, who are more prone to catching a cold or the flu
  • If you visit hospitals, old age homes, or nursing homes, frequently
  • If you already have a weakened immune system or an autoimmune disease

What To Do For Pregnancy Pneumonia?

What To Do For Pregnancy Pneumonia?

If you suspect that you might be suffering from pneumonia, and then make sure to call your doctor as soon as you observe the symptoms. It is not recommended that you keep waiting to watch if the symptoms disappear because the risk of complications increases the longer you keep waiting to see a doctor. In pregnancy, it is often observed that the flu acts as a precursor to pneumonia. If you experience any of the following, then you need to rush to the emergency room.

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Chest pains
  • Pain in the abdomen or belly
  • State of confusion
  • High fever
  • Dizziness or spell of fainting
  • Vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • If your baby is not moving
  • Your doctor will diagnose if you have pneumonia or not in the following manner:
  • Conducting a physical examination to listen to your lungs
  • Assessing all symptoms and your overall health
  • Taking a sputum sample
  • Chest x-rays to observe your lungs

Typical treatments that are prescribed for maternal viral pneumonia are considered to be safe for use during pregnancy. Early stage pneumonia will be treated with anti-viral medications. Some doctors also prefer combining respiratory therapy with these drugs.

  • For bacterial pneumonia, doctors generally prescribe antibiotics that are safe to be taken while pregnant.
  • Some over-the-counter pain relievers will also be prescribed for reducing pain and fever. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is the most common medication used for this.
  • Apart from these, always remember to drink plenty of fluids and to get sufficient sleep so that you can speed up your recovery.
  • As you are pregnant, it is crucial that you do not self-medicate without consulting your doctor.

What Complications Can Pregnancy Pneumonia Cause?

Many studies have shown that if left untreated, pneumonia can cause many complications in your pregnancy. Even severe cases of maternal pneumonia can lead to complications. Complications arise because the levels of oxygen in the body fall since due to the infection the lungs are not producing enough oxygen to go around the body. This can cause empyema, a condition that causes fluid to accumulate around the lungs. Some of the common complications in newborns due to maternal pneumonia may include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Miscarriage
  • Respiratory failure

If you do not receive treatment on time, maternal pneumonia can be fatal for both the mother and the baby.

Conclusion

You should remember the following tips to stay in good health during your pregnancy:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Get sufficient sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid others who are sick

Also Read:

References

  1. Goodnight, W.H. and Soper, D.E., 2005. Pneumonia in pregnancy. Critical care medicine, 33(10), pp.S390-S397.
  2. Jamieson, D.J., Honein, M.A., Rasmussen, S.A., Williams, J.L., Swerdlow, D.L., Biggerstaff, M.S., Lindstrom, S., Louie, J.K., Christ, C.M., Bohm, S.R. and Fonseca, V.P., 2009. H1N1 2009 influenza virus infection during pregnancy in the USA. The Lancet, 374(9688), pp.451-458.
  3. Berkowitz, K. and LaSala, A., 1990. Risk factors associated with the increasing prevalence of pneumonia during pregnancy. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 163(3), pp.981-985.
  4. Laibl, V.R. and Sheffield, J.S., 2005. Influenza and pneumonia in pregnancy. Clinics in perinatology, 32(3), pp.727-738.
Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: September 27, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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