Why asthmatic pregnant women in big cities face a higher risk of preterm birth

A new study has found that expectant mothers with asthma may be at a greater risk of delivering prematurely if they are exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution just before conception and in early pregnancy.

National Institutes of Health researchers noted both short-term and continuous exposure to carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides increased the risk of preterm birth. The results were the same for exposure to particulate-matter air pollution comprising tiny particles of dust, acid, metals and other substances in the air.

Exposure to 30 parts per billion of nitrogen oxide three months before pregnancy raised the risk of preterm birth by almost 30 percent for asthmatic women, in comparison to 8 percent for women without the condition. The risk of an early delivery increased by 12 percent with carbon monoxide exposure during the same period. According to researchers, the final six weeks of pregnancy were also critical for women with asthma.

“It may be that early exposure to air pollution sets off inflammation or other internal stresses that interfere with embryo implantation or placental development. Those disruptions could lead to preterm delivery down the road,” said lead study author Dr. Pauline Mendola. The research was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preterm birth affects more than one in 10 babies born in the country. A premature birth is one that occurs before 37 weeks of gestation. It is associated with pregnancy complications and many health problems for the baby such as cerebral palsy and breathing difficulties.

Researchers recommended pregnant women with asthma limit their outdoor activity when the air quality is forecast to be unhealthy in order to reduce their risk for preterm birth.

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