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Conception and Congestion

Monday, March 4th, 2013

You probably thought you knew all there was to know about pregnancy. You’ve read all the books, talked to your obstetrician, visited every website, and browsed every forum. At this point, you probably feel like a pregnancy expert. Believe it or not, there are probably still some symptoms you don’t even know about.

Many of my patients come to me complaining about harmless but bothersome conditions during their pregnancy wondering if their issue is out of the ordinary. One common complaint is congestion. It is more worrisome than other symptoms because most women who experience it think they might be coming down with a cold, which they worry might harm their baby. Luckily, congestion is completely normal, and it makes sense when you consider the cause.

Your blood volume increases during pregnancy and many of your blood vessels expand to accommodate it. Since there are tiny capillaries and vessels in your nose, their expansion causes a drastic change in the nose’s structure. The stuffiness you’re feeling during pregnancy is not a result of mucus. Instead, it’s the larger blood vessels blocking air from flowing in and out normally.

Studies show that two-thirds of all women report severe stuffiness during their pregnancy, so it is not at all uncommon. Usually, it is mild enough to not cause any serious problems, but let your doctor know right away if it seems to be affecting your ability to breathe normally. It could also affect your ability to exercise, so bring that up with your physician as well.

Congestion is one of those weird pregnancy symptoms that your doctor didn’t warn you about. It is harmless, which is why people usually don’t even report it. It is still common, inconvenient, and uncomfortable though. There is no treatment to alleviate the congestion safely, but cigarettes can exacerbate the problem, so make sure you quit if the symptom is a problem. In fact, you should quit either way.

While congestion is completely harmless, it’s okay if you still want to bring it up with your doctor if you’re concerned. As a physician, believe me when I say that there are no silly questions during pregnancy. I actually like to see women who really pay attention to their bodies, because they are the ones who take care of themselves and their growing baby best.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.