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    The Lungs in Pregnancy

    Respiratory system

    The respiratory system is made up of the organs involved in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The system includes:

    • Nose

    • Throat (pharynx)

    • Voice box (larynx)

    • Windpipe (trachea)

    • Lungs, which contain:

      • Airways (bronchi)

      • Smaller airways (bronchioles)

      • Tiny airways (alveoli)

    The lungs

    The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped organs made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue. They take up most of the space in the chest (thorax). The lungs are surrounded by a membrane called the pleura. The lungs are divided into sections called lobes.

    When you breathe, the air:

    • Enters the body through the nose or the mouth

    • Travels down the throat through the larynx and trachea

    • Goes into the lungs through the bronchi:

      • Then bronchi divide into bronchioles

      • Bronchioles end in the alveoli

    The gas exchange takes place between the alveoli and nearby blood vessels.  

    Change during pregnancy

    Because of pregnancy hormones and the growing fetus, there are many changes in the respiratory system. Some changes include:

    • Stuffy or runny nose and nosebleeds

    • The chest increases in size  

    • The diaphragm, the large flat muscle used in breathing, moves upward toward the chest

    • Increase in the amount of air breathed in and out

    • Decrease in amount of air the lungs can handle 

    • Increase in oxygen use

    Because of these changes, many women feel short of breath or have some trouble breathing during pregnancy. If a woman has a lung condition, such as asthma, before pregnancy, it may be necessary to change treatment to control symptoms and prevent complications.

    Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
    Online Medical Reviewer: Heather Trevino
    Online Medical Reviewer: Irina Burd MD PhD
    Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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