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Stress During Pregnancy May Increase Child's Risk of Asthma

Childhood asthma is one of the leading chronic childhood diseases in the United States with rates at an historical high. Asthma attacks cause inflammation and narrowing of the airways with symptoms of shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing. The causes of asthma are complex and not well understood. Asthma incidence is higher among ethnic minorities in poor urban and inner-city areas. Animal researchers suggest a link between a mother's stress during pregnancy and a developing fetus's immune system. In the first study of its kind among humans, researchers suspect that a mother's psychological stress effects immune response programming in a developing baby during pregnancy.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School studied the effect of psychological stress among ethnic minorities in large inner-cities, many of whom were living below poverty level. The umbilical cord blood from these women showed higher rates of proteins (cytokines) released in the generation of an immune response and may be a marker of childhood asthma risk. The patterns of cytokines correlated to the levels of stress that the mothers reported. The researchers plan to follow the babies as they grow up to further analyze the effect of stress during pregnancy on childhood asthma.


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