"Asthma drugs in pregnancy may raise risk for kids," a recent USA Today headline warns. ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, however, is more concerned about the newspaper s misleading message. If you continue to read the article, he points out, you realize that the reporter is referring specifically to inhaled anti-inflammatory steroid asthma medications not asthma drugs in general, as the headline implies. Such an alarmist headline could lead some pregnant women to stop taking their asthma medications, and that would turn an uncommon problem into a big one, adds Dr. Ross. Such journalistic laziness is irresponsible.
The USA Today article reports on a study from the University of Basel, Switzerland that looked at over 65,000 mother-child pairs from early pregnancy until the children reached the age of about six. While only 6 percent of the mothers in the study had asthma, budesonide (Pulmicort) was the most common inhaled steroid of those who used inhalers. And despite what the headline may suggest, the study authors concluded that using such inhaled glucocorticoids during pregnancy was not associated with an increased risk of most childhood diseases although there was some link to endocrine and metabolic disorders. However, in contrast to the negative tone of the news article, the study authors write, Regarding most disease categories, data are reassuring, supporting the use of inhaled glucocorticoids during pregnancy.
In their study, just published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the researchers also noted that, since asthma is common among pregnant women, anti-inflammatory steroids are the recommended treatment option. In order to avoid scaring pregnant women about their asthma medication, the headline should have read Asthma steroids in pregnancy may raise some risks for kids, says Dr. Ross. While inhaled steroids remain a mainstay of asthma control, there are several other classes of effective asthma medication. Asthmatic women who are or may become pregnant need to discuss this with their doctors and not with the USA Today writing staff.
And as ACSH's Dr. Josh Bloom points out, not taking medication could also lead to harmful outcomes. The consequences of poorly controlled asthma during pregnancy are not trivial for either the mother or the baby. This factor must be part of the risk-benefit equation.