Maternal Stress in Pregnancy Linked to Increased Risk for Development of Asthma in Children

In a study published online in March, 2014, in the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, researchers conclude that “maternal adverse life events during the second half of gestation are linked to an increased risk for the development of atopic disorders, asthma, and eczema, in the case of asthma, particularly in the absence of a maternal asthma.” A Reuters Health article on the study notes that the adverse life events include “divorce, job loss or death of a loved….These findings, [lead author] Dr. Petra Arck told Reuters Health in an email, could ‘allow clinicians to evaluate future asthma risk in unborn children using a simple life event assessment questionnaire.’ Arck, of University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf inGermany, and her colleagues note that although there are strong genetic components to asthma and related conditions, these alone do not help explain the unprecedented increase in such diseases in recent years. Over the same period as that increase, they add, stress levels have been on the rise. But there hasn’t been much evidence to connect stress in pregnancy to asthma and eczema. To investigate further, the researchers examined data from 1,587 children and their mothers who took part in an Australian pregnancy study. The original purpose of the study was to determine the effects of intensive fetal monitoring on pregnancy outcomes.

“Mothers-to-be were asked about recent stressful life events halfway through their pregnancy and again toward the end of pregnancy. Their children were evaluated for asthma, eczema and other allergy-related conditions at age six and 14. Complete data were available for 994 children and their mothers.

“The researchers calculated that the likelihood of having asthma or eczema as a teenager was substantially higher among children of mothers who experienced stressful life events during the second half of their pregnancies. Specifically, kids were about twice as likely to have asthma as 14-year-olds if their mothers had been through a single stressful life event, once other factors known to influence asthma were taken into account. Risks were similar when mothers had experienced multiple life stressors. When the researchers looked closer, they found that pattern only held among children whose mothers did not have asthma themselves. There was no link between stressful events in pregnancy and a child’s chance of having asthma or eczema at age six, according to findings published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.”

The journal abstract and the Reuters Health article are both online.