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Female hormones

Some women find their asthma can be affected by puberty, periods, pregnancy and menopause.

Hormones are chemicals that travel around your body in your bloodstream. They affect many things, including growth, fertility and the digestive system. Female hormones all work together and play a large role in key stages such as puberty, pregnancy and birth, and menopause. They include oestrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH). If you have asthma, these hormones can also affect asthma symptoms.

Why can hormones increase your risk of asthma symptoms or an asthma attack?

There are certain times in a woman's life when hormone levels go up and down a lot. It is not known exactly why these hormonal changes affect asthma symptoms, or why they affect some women but not others. One theory is that they may directly affect the airways and/or cause the body to have a stronger inflammatory response to infection, but more research is needed before we can know for certain.

When are hormones most likely to affect you?

Research shows that girls and women with asthma often notice a difference in their asthma symptoms:

  • During puberty - before puberty, asthma occurs more often in boys than girls, but it is more common in teenage girls than teenage boys. Most girls begin puberty between the ages of 8 and 14 years of age and reach full sexual maturity within four years.
  • Just before and/or during a period - research shows that just over one-third of women find their asthma symptoms are worse just before or during their period.
  • During pregnancy - some women first develop asthma during or shortly after pregnancy; during pregnancy some women find their asthma improves, some have no change in their asthma at all and some, mostly those women who already have severe asthma, find their asthma gets worse.
  • Around the menopause and perimenopause (the time leading up to the menopause) - some women find that their symptoms get worse and some women first develop asthma before and after menopause. The average age for a woman to reach menopause is 51, although some women experience it in their 30s or 40s.

What's the best way to reduce the risk of hormones affecting you?

The best way to avoid the risk of hormones affecting you is to manage your asthma well.

  • Take your medication exactly as prescribed and discussed with your GP or asthma nurse
  • Check with your GP or asthma nurse that you're using your inhaler correctly.
  • Use a written asthma action plan.
  • Go for regular asthma reviews.

You can also ask your GP or asthma nurse if it's suitable for you to:

  • adjust your asthma medication according to your period cycle - your GP or asthma nurse will talk you through the details
  • use hormonal treatments - your GP or asthma nurse will give you individual advice.

There's more useful information about women and asthma here.

Last updated December 2016

Next review due December 2019