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Asthma Exacerbation In Pregnancy [Obstetrics Inpatient]


Asthma Exacerbation in Pregnancy (Obstetrics Inpatient)

Clinical Description

  • Care of the perinatal patient experiencing symptoms related to airway inflammation and hyperresponsiveness.

Key Information

  • A significant percentage of women who have asthma experience an exacerbation during labor and delivery. An exacerbation should be treated the same during labor as at any other time.
  • Treat exacerbation aggressively to avoid fetal hypoxia; the use of oxygen and asthma medications is safer for the pregnancy than symptoms and exacerbation that may compromise maternal or fetal wellbeing.
  • Epinephrine (intramuscular) should be given in addition to standard therapy for symptoms associated with anaphylaxis or angioedema.
  • Possible fetal complications with poorly-controlled asthma include preterm delivery, intrauterine growth restriction, neonatal hypoxia and death.
  • Intubation may be more difficult during pregnancy due to physiologic changes to the oropharynx structure.
  • Inhaled corticosteroid therapy should be standard care at discharge; however, it may be used in tandem with systemic corticosteroid therapy during hospitalization.
  • Antimicrobial therapy should only be used if a lung infection is clearly identified by fever, sputum or infiltrate on chest x-ray.
  • Breastfeeding is not contraindicated. Medications should be reviewed for potential fetal effects (e.g., theophylline).
  • Patients with asthma have a significantly increased risk of suicidal ideation, attempts and mortality. Suicide screening should be provided and appropriate mental health referrals when necessary.

Clinical Goals

By transition of care

A. The patient will achieve the following goals:
  • Asthma Symptom Relief

B. Patient, family or significant other will teach back or demonstrate education topics and points:
  • Education: Overview
  • Education: Self Management
  • Education: When to Seek Medical Attention

Correlate Health Status

  • Correlate health status to:

    • history, comorbidity
    • age, developmental level
    • sex, gender identity
    • baseline assessment data
    • physiologic status
    • pregnancy status (e.g., complications, weeks of gestation, uterine activity, fetal wellbeing)
    • response to medication and interventions
    • psychosocial status, social determinants of health
    • barriers to accessing care and services
    • health literacy
    • cultural and spiritual preferences
    • safety risks
    • family interaction
    • plan for transition of care

Asthma Exacerbation in Pregnancy


  • activity intolerance
  • chest tightness
  • cough
  • prolonged expiratory phase
  • retractions
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • work of breathing increased

Vital Signs

  • heart rate increased
  • respiratory rate increased
  • SpO2 (peripheral oxygen saturation) decreased

Laboratory Values

  • ABG (arterial blood gas) abnormal
  • serum electrolytes abnormal
  • serum theophylline outside therapeutic range

Problem Intervention

Support Asthma Symptom Control

  • Monitor uterine activity and fetal heart rate; notify healthcare provider of uterine contraction activity and changes in fetal wellbeing.
  • Provide inhaled short-acting beta2-agonist; consider inhaled anticholinergic.
  • Initiate oral or intravenous corticosteroid therapy.
  • Monitor response to treatment and peak expiratory flow rate.
  • Maintain optimal position to relieve discomfort, breathlessness, ventilation-perfusion mismatch and support fetal wellbeing.
  • Provide oxygen therapy judiciously to avoid hyperoxemia; adjust to achieve oxygenation goal.
  • Promote early mobility or ambulation; match activity to ability and tolerance.
  • Evaluate psychosocial factors that may contribute to the anxiety-breathlessness cycle; acknowledge, normalize and validate patient and support system response to patient’s breathlessness and fetal wellbeing.
  • Utilize nonpharmacologic measures, such as controlled breathing, relaxation and mucus-clearance techniques to reduce breathlessness and anxiety.
  • Consider noninvasive or invasive positive pressure ventilation to enhance oxygenation, ventilation and reduce work of breathing.
  • Consider adjunctive therapy, such as magnesium sulfate, aminophyline and heliox gas mixture.
  • Evaluate self-management (asthma action plan) adherence and effectiveness of coping skills; encourage expression of feelings, expectations and concerns related to symptom management, quality of life, as well as maternal and fetal wellbeing.

Associated Documentation

  • Airway/Ventilation Management
  • Breathing Techniques/Airway Clearance
  • Fetal Wellbeing Promotion
  • Supportive Measures


CPG-Specific Education Topics


  • description

  • signs/symptoms

Self Management

  • asthma action plan

  • asthma management

  • avoidance of triggers

  • environmental modification

  • immunizations

  • medication management

  • provider follow-up

  • rehabilitation therapy

  • safety

When to Seek Medical Attention

  • unresolved/worsening symptoms

General Education Topics

General Education

  • admission, transition of care

  • orientation to care setting, routine

  • advance care planning

  • diagnostic tests/procedures

  • diet modification

  • opioid medication management

  • oral health

  • medication management

  • pain assessment process

  • safe medication disposal

  • tobacco use, smoke exposure

  • treatment plan

Safety Education

  • call light use

  • equipment/home supplies

  • fall prevention

  • harm prevention

  • infection prevention

  • MDRO (multidrug-resistant organism) care

  • personal health information

  • resources for support

Population-Specific Considerations


  • Comorbidities, such as rhinosinusitis, obesity, gastroesophageal reflux disease and psychiatric disorders may contribute to poor symptom control and may require additional specialty services to manage treatment.
  • During pregnancy, asthma symptoms may worsen, improve or stay the same; exacerbations are most common in the second trimester due to hormonal changes or reduction in asthma medication. International guidelines can guide practitioners regarding medications that are safe during pregnancy.


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Clinical Practice Guidelines represent a consistent/standardized approach to the care of patients with specific diagnoses. Care should always be individualized by adding patient specific information to the Plan of Care.