Ways Pregnancy Increases Risk for Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis poses significant risks to both pregnant women and their babies, particularly during the postnatal period. Research conducted by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the University of East Anglia indicates a higher tuberculosis risk within the first six months after pregnancy, with postnatal women experiencing a 15.4 percent higher incidence compared to non-pregnant women.

Although tuberculosis during pregnancy does not typically worsen in severity, pregnant women are still vulnerable to the disease. Tuberculosis infection progresses gradually in pregnant women, and some symptoms may be less noticeable, such as weight gain. However, if a pregnant woman does have tuberculosis, it can affect her respiratory system due to the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy.

Pregnancy induces various physical changes, including a weakened immune system and alterations in the cardio-respiratory system. Increased blood supply to the respiratory airways can lead to conditions like nasal obstruction, excessive mucous secretion, and nosebleeds, creating an environment conducive to tuberculosis bacterial growth.

Elevated progesterone levels during pregnancy can further impact respiratory function, increasing tidal volume and resulting in chronic respiratory alkalosis. This respiratory imbalance can create conditions favorable for tuberculosis bacteria to thrive, with even mild respiratory infections potentially escalating to tuberculosis due to the altered oxygen content in the blood during pregnancy.

Detecting tuberculosis during pregnancy can be challenging, as pregnant women may be reluctant to undergo radiographic tests that could pose risks to the baby. Additionally, symptoms such as fatigue may be dismissed as typical pregnancy discomforts, delaying diagnosis. However, regular tuberculosis screenings, including safe and effective skin tests, are essential for pregnant women. Early detection is crucial, as delayed diagnosis can lead to severe complications, including stillbirth or abortion.

Pregnant women should be vigilant for symptoms such as inadequate weight gain, persistent illness, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, and prolonged coughing, which may indicate tuberculosis. Consulting a doctor promptly for evaluation and testing can facilitate early intervention and prevent adverse outcomes associated with tuberculosis during pregnancy.