A "chest cough" is a type of cough in which congestion is present in the lungs. Pregnancy can be a state of decreased immune function and mothers-to-be are at risk for a number of infections. The worst of these is pneumonia, which can be fatal to mothers and their babies. In addition, women with pre-existing asthma may have an exacerbation of their condition during pregnancy. Women with a persistent chest cough, and especially those with fevers or other symptoms, should be promptly evaluated by a doctor.
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The most serious cause of chest cough in pregnancy is pneumonia, an infection of the lower respiratory tract. Pneumonia is the most fatal non-obstetric infection in women. The disease can be caused by bacteria or viruses. The disease can be spread from other infected people, or may be due to aspiration of stomach contents during labor. The symptoms of pneumonia are the same as they are in nonpregnant individuals: cough with sputum, fever, and breathlessness. Pneumonia increases the risk of preterm labor and, if untreated, can be fatal.
Women with symptoms of pneumonia should seek rapid treatment. High fevers are especially dangerous to the fetus and should be treated with antipyretics and sponging. Doctors may take X-rays, blood tests, and a variety of blood, urine and sputum cultures to establish the diagnosis and identify the culture bacteria. A number of safe antibiotics and antivirals for use in pregnancy are available to treat the condition.
Asthma can cause episodic chest cough, breathlessness and wheeze. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, asthma symptoms worsen in about 35 percent of women. However, nearly a third of women have an improvement of symptoms as well. Asthma may worsen in the second to third trimesters. Asthma control is important because the asthmatic episodes may impair oxygenation of the blood, which can poorly affect the fetus. Asthma medications are generally safe to take during pregnancy, but check with your doctor.
Other Causes of Chest Cough
Chest cough can be due to a number of other conditions. Tuberculosis is fortunately rare in the United States, but may cause chest cough in women who have recently immigrated from other countries. Sometimes cough may occur following anesthetic complications during labor. Chronic bronchitis is rare in most pregnant women, but may be present in those who have smoked cigarettes for long periods of time. Venous thromboembolism is due to clots in the legs; these can travel to the lungs and cause a serious pulmonary disease. It may cause symptoms of cough, mild fever or breathing difficulty. This condition is more common during pregnancy. Systemic lupus atherosclerosis, an autoimmune disease which can also present with cough, may worsen during pregnancy as well.