Upstate OB-Gyn doctors say breast pain increasing due to stress, pregnant women may be more at risk for severe COVID-19 illness

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Upstate women’s health doctors say they’re getting a lot of questions from their patients during the Coronavirus pandemic, ranging from pregnancy to breast pain, to stress.

Bon Secours Ob-gyn Dr. Celeste Beaudoin said the number one question she’s gotten since the Coronavirus pandemic began is, “should I avoid getting pregnant right now?”

She said she advises those patients that there is “no good time to have a baby,” and that deciding when to have a baby is an individual, risk-based decision that should ultimately be decided between a woman and her partner. “The unknowns with this are pretty big,” she said.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control released a report saying pregnant women who contract COVID-19 may be more likely than non-pregnant women to be admitted to the ICU or need to be on mechanical ventilators, but appear to have an equal risk of death from the disease as non-pregnant women.

The report also states that Hispanic and non-Hispanic black pregnant women appear to be disproportionately affected by SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy.

The figure is a photo of a pregnant woman with text about increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The CDC is updating its information weekly on the number of pregnant women with COVID-19 here.

Dr. Beaudoin added that pregnant women tend to already experience shortness of breath in the third trimester, and said contracting COVID-19 could exacerbate the symptoms, but doctors’ main concern is the negative effects the virus could have on the baby. “Thirty-six, thirty-seven weeks on up to 40 weeks is the riskiest time to get it,” she said. “If [a pregnant woman] is having trouble breathing, the baby may actually have trouble getting oxygen, and so all the more reason we want to prevent them from having that issue.”

Although she believes the report released by the CDC has too small of a sample size to definitively give doctors an answer about how the virus is impacting pregnant women, she said “it has been suggested, although we’re still trying to gather all the data, that there may be some placental effects [on the baby.]”

She urged pregnant women to be vigilant about washing their hands, wearing a mask as an added layer of protection from others, practicing social distancing, and following all of the CDC’s recommendations for avoiding exposure to the Coronavirus. Dr. Beaudoin also urged families and coworkers of pregnant women to wear face coverings.

Next, she has noticed confusion about how to conduct a self breast exam and says anyone aged 18 and older should be doing them regularly. She said this will help them to get a feel for what their breasts normally feel like so a cancerous lump will be easier to spot.

“Getting a feel for, ‘Oh that felt the same last month, and it was a little tender right before my period,'” she said. “Over time seeing those kinds of trends make seeing those things make everything easier to interpret… I’ve had the most women feel something [cancerous] maybe in their 40s.”

Finally, Dr. Beaudoin says she has noticed a spike in anxiety and depression since the pandemic began.

“I think everyone is just a little run down because of fear, because of stress, how they’re going to handle everything,” she said.

For some patients, she says this mounting anxiety over the course of the past few months is causing an increase in breast pain in patients.

“Increased stress, increased amounts of caffeine and increased amounts of alcohol can all contribute to breast pain, especially if they have fibrocystic tissue that is more tender or sore before their period. A lot of breast tissue has reactivity. That will become more reactive with an increased stress and alcohol and caffeine, and I think we’re seeing a trend of people drinking on average more than they normally would.”

She said the most common reason for breast pain is an ill-fitting bra, but decreasing stress, caffeine and alcohol consumption could lesson breast pain. She cautioned that breast pain could be a warning sign for other issues and to reach out to your doctor if the breast pain persists for more than a month, and not just before a menstrual period.

Dr. Beaudoin also reminded women that stress can make it more difficult to get pregnant if they are trying to conceive a baby.

She recommended reaching out to your doctor, at least for a virtual visit, if you are experiencing anxiety or depression, and she also recommended practicing activities like yoga or meditation to relieve stress.

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