Heart and Lung Problems During Pregnancy

If a woman suffers from heart disease the effect of pregnancy on the heart will vary according to the abnormality, and she may be advised to take more rest and to restrict salt intake. This will minimize the extra strain placed on the heart during pregnancy, which is greatest after 30 weeks.

If the heart condition produces a predisposition to infective endocarditis*, the general advice will be to avoid colds, flu or other infections, and antibiotic prophylaxis may be given during labour. Forceps or vacuum suction may also be used during delivery to minimize strain on the heart.

Ideally, a woman with heart disease should consult her doctor about the effect of pregnancy before becoming pregnant, especially if she is taking any drugs. However, it is unlikely that she would be advised against pregnancy except in the most severe conditions.

A soft heart murmur sometimes heard in normal pregnancy is usually the result of the increase in the amount of blood handled by the heart.

Lung disorders

Asthma is not usually affected by pregnancy but a pregnant sufferer should try to avoid all stimuli which precipitate attacks, even if these are normally tolerable. Doctors may recommend the use of only inhaled preparations of drugs to control the asthma. Tuberculosis of the lung is now rare in Western countries.

If a woman has tuberculosis while she is pregnant, treatment with drugs prevents the pregnancy from becoming affected. However, tuberculosis is very dangerous to newborn babies and the baby will probably be separated from the mother at birth for about six weeks until the protective BCG inoculation* becomes fully effective.