Asthma and Hormones

You may not associate female hormones and breathing problems, yet a study conducted by researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada discovered that a connection between the two could exist. The researchers looked at normal fluctuations in women's hormones that occur naturally throughout the month and discovered that when the levels shift, it's at about the same time that asthma symptoms typically kick in.

But the good news is that taking birth control pills can go a long way toward addressing these monthly imbalances.

Exploring the Asthma and Birth Control Link

These findings, which were published in the November 2009 issue of the Chest journal, found some interesting patterns to help explain the connection more fully. The research revealed that when a women's estrogen level increases, this reduces airway inflammation, thereby lessening asthma symptoms. On the other hand, when progesterone levels increase, this leads to more airway inflammation and causes asthma to worsen instead.

Further, researchers discovered that women who aren't using any oral contraceptives experience significant changes in these levels as their monthly cycle progresses. And progesterone levels are typically at their height right before menstruation begins each month. This makes sense when you consider that women who experience this surge also have an increased tendency to experience a worsening of asthma symptoms at the same time. (Note that allergy symptoms also seem to be magnified when this situation occurs.)

Is Birth Control a Cure?

But while hormone fluctuations and asthma/allergy problems may be related, interestingly enough, the researchers found that those asthmatics taking birth control pills on a regular basis didn't experience the same hormonal changes, nor the related breathing and allergy affects. This means that oral contraceptives could have a profound impact on keeping asthma in check.

What This Means

If you're wondering what this information means and how you can use it to control your own asthma condition, the first step is to pay attention to your own symptoms. If you're finding that your asthma kicks in around the same time every month, you can assume that this is probably not a coincidence. It's more likely related to your menstrual cycle.

That being said, though, some doctors caution that women shouldn't run out and ask for birth control pills as a primary treatment for their asthma. Since taking oral birth control can cause some side effects and some risks, this isn't something to take lightly.

Instead, you may want to work with your physician to come up with a plan to increase your asthma medications during high-risk times of the month. But if you're considering taking birth control anyway as a method of contraception, better asthma control can certainly be a secondary benefit.



U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health