Women's Health

Respiratory Symptoms Wax and Wane with Period

You're likely familiar with the changes your body goes through each menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels rise as your body prepares for ovulation. Then they fall before your period. This flux in hormones can trigger fatigue, breast tenderness, and other symptoms. A new study suggests these hormonal changes may also affect breathing problems like coughing or shortness of breath. The findings may be especially helpful for women with asthma.

Close-up photo of woman wearing scarf and hat

It's a matter of timing

For the study, almost 4,000 Norwegian women completed questionnaires on respiratory symptoms. The questions covered wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Researchers asked study participants if they had asthma and if they smoked. They also collected each woman's body mass index (BMI). BMI calculates a person's body fat based on weight and height.

The average menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days. Researchers found that during this cycle a woman's breathing symptoms can vary quite a bit. All study participants noticed a rise in wheezing during the middle of their cycle (days 10 to 22). This wheezing seemed to drop near ovulation. Shortness of breath also peaked around mid-cycle (day seven to 21).

The level of coughing rose at various times. Women who had asthma, smoked, or were overweight tended to cough more following ovulation. Women with few respiratory symptoms seemed to cough more right before ovulation and their period.

Findings may improve care

The study doesn't prove that hormonal changes during a woman's menstrual cycle cause an increase in respiratory symptoms. But the findings may improve care for women with breathing problems. For instance, doctors may be able to help women with asthma use their medication better.

"Our results point to the potential for individualizing therapy for respiratory diseases," says lead author Ferenc Macsali, Ph.D., of the Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway. "Adjusting asthma medication, for example, according to a woman's menstrual cycle might improve effectiveness. It can also help reduce disability and the cost of care."

This study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

CDC - Asthma

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - What Is Asthma?

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health - Menstruation and the Menstrual Cycle Fact Sheet

January 2013

Tips for Preventing an Asthma Attack

Asthma triggers are substances or environmental factors that cause your asthma symptoms. Your triggers can vary from season to season. Work with your doctor to identify your triggers. Once you know what they are, you can take steps to minimize your exposure to them. Here are some tips for avoiding some of the more common asthma triggers:

  • Beware of air pollution. Stay in air-conditioned buildings when pollen counts or air pollution levels are high.

  • Limit cold air exposure. Dress warmly and cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when it is cold and windy.

  • Reduce stress. Take steps to manage your stress, such as practicing controlled breathing, getting a massage, and taking time to unwind.

  • Control mold. Fix leaky pipes or appliances that can encourage mold growth. Ask someone else to clean mold with a cleaner that contains bleach.

  • Eliminate dust mites and dander. Limit carpeting, upholstery, and draperies in your home. These materials can trap and hold dust, dust mites, and animal dander. Also, use dust-proof covers on your mattress and pillows and wash fabric items frequently in hot water.

  • Keep a clean house. Have someone vacuum your home once or twice a week. If you have to vacuum yourself, wear a facemask and use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Also, have your heating vents cleaned regularly.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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