Can Catching a Cold or Flu During Pregnancy Cause a Miscarriage?

Why Cold and Flu Are Unlikely Miscarriage Risk Factors

Blonde pregnant woman is blowing her nose
Getty Images/Stefanie Sudek

Winter is cold season for more reasons than one, and nearly everyone catches at least one cold or flu in the winter months. Should pregnant women worry about common winter viruses?

Cold or Flu and Miscarriage

Although cold and flu viruses can certainly make you uncomfortable, they aren't likely to cause miscarriage. No study has ever proven a link between catching a common cold or flu during pregnancy and having a miscarriage.

That said, there can be causes for concern. Having a fever during pregnancy has never been proven to cause miscarriage specifically, but fevers can increase the risk of other complications, such as neural tube defects. If you do catch the flu, your doctor may advise you to keep your fever well controlled with acetaminophen (like Tylenol) while you are sick.

In addition, a few studies have linked having the flu during pregnancy to increased risk of long-term neurological adverse effects for the baby, so it makes sense to use precautions to avoid catching flu during pregnancy whenever possible. Talk to your physician for specific advice for your situation.

What's the Difference Between a Cold and Flu?

According to the CDC, cold and flu both cause flu-like symptoms; however, the flu is usually worse than a cold. Cold and flu are caused by different viruses.

Symptoms of both cold and flu can include fever, fatigue, body aches and dry cough.

People with flu experience these symptoms more severely. With cold, a person is more likely to have rhinorrhea, or stuffy and runny nose. Furthermore, colds usually don't lead to more serious problems that would result in hospitalization, such as pneumonia or more severe bacterial infections.

Based on symptoms alone, your physician may have trouble distinguishing cold from flu because they're both so similar.

However, special tests can be done to distinguish between them.

A Closer Look at Flu

The flu (or influenza) is contagious, and the symptoms of flu usually hit suddenly. Some specific symptoms of flu include:

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting (more common in children)
  • Diarrhea (more common in children)

Please keep in mind that just because you don't have a fever, doesn't mean that you don't have the flu. In other words, you can have the flu without fever.

Who Is at Risk for Catching the Flu?

Although anyone is at risk for catching the flu, the flu is more common among the following patient populations:

  • Pregnant women
  • Older people
  • Children
  • People with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma and heart disease

What Are Complications of the Flu?

Fortunately, most people who get the flu recover after a few days. However, some people do develop pneumonia, a serious lung infection that can sometimes be deadly. Other respiratory infections can result from the flu, including bronchitis and sinusitis.

The flu can also cause ear infection (the middle ear is connected to the respiratory tract).

The flu can exacerbate other illness. For example, the flu can make asthma worse and serve as a trigger for asthma attacks. Additionally, the flu can make heart failure worse.

Source:

Shi, Limin, S. Hossein Fatemi, Robert W. Sidwell, and Paul H. Patterson, "Maternal Influenza Infection Causes Marked Behavioral and Pharmacological Changes in the Offspring." Journal of Neuroscience 1 Jan 2003. Accessed 8 May 2008. 

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