We regularly talk about the affects of childhood asthma but I didn't know that asthma has been associated with a prolonged time to pregnancy and a decreased birth rate.
A new clinical observation study published today (12 February, 2016) in the European Respiratory Journal adds to previous studies that have identified a link between asthma and fertility. The evidence so far has been conflicting and many of the studies have either relied on data from questionnaires or small sample sizes. The current study investigated 245 women with unexplained fertility problems aged between 23 and 45 years. They underwent asthma and allergy testing and questionnaires during their fertility treatment. 96 women in the study had either an existing doctor’s diagnosis of asthma or were diagnosed with asthma when they entered the study. That is a whopping 39% of women, which is a huge number.
The researchers monitored the women during their fertility treatment for a minimum of 12 months, until they had a successful pregnancy, stopped treatment or the observation ended. The results found that the median total time to pregnancy was 32.2 months in non-asthmatic women and 55.6 months in those with asthma. Women with asthma also had fewer successful conceptions: 39.6% achieved pregnancy in the asthmatic women compared with 60.4% in the women without asthma. The results also found this trend was more apparent as the women got older.
Lead author Dr Elisabeth Juul Gade, commented: “This finding in a clinical trial setting adds new weight to the epidemiological evidence suggesting a link between asthma and fertility. We have seen here that asthma seems to have a negative influence on fertility as it increases time to pregnancy and even more so with age.
“We do not yet know the causal relationship; it may be complex with different types of asthma, psychological well-being, asthma medication and hormones all play a role. Given this new evidence, we believe that clinicians should encourage women with asthma to become pregnant at an earlier age and optimise their treatment for asthma pre-conception. Patient education is also of paramount importance as adherence to treatment may be enhanced if patients are informed of this link.”
Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, says: “These findings will be frustrating for many women who are trying to conceive as they do not offer any solution, other than planning a family earlier in life which is not a viable option for everyone. There is a wealth of existing research linking asthma and hormones so this adds to our knowledge on the subject but we need much more investment into asthma research to be able to understand exactly how asthma could impact on fertility. If you have asthma and you are trying to conceive then you should have an open discussion with your GP about your health to ensure you are managing your asthma, understand how your medicines work and are taking them correctly. If you have any concerns you can also call our expert nurses on the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800.”
I loved being pregnant and fortunately have never suffered the torment of struggling with conception but I can only imagine how difficult this must be. On the flip side, I now worry that my youngest daughter will endure these difficulties as she grows older and wants children of her own. I am a huge supporter of Asthma UK and their helpline has been so useful for me and my family, I just hope that they continue to get the support and investment that they need to continue their important work and research.