Common Pregnancy Complications
Every pregnant woman has a risk of developing some health problems during pregnancy. These problems may affect the mother’s health, the fetus’s health, or both. A woman may have health problems because of a health condition she had before getting pregnant. A woman can also develop a condition during pregnancy. Even a woman who was healthy before getting pregnant can experience health complications. These health problems may make the pregnancy a high-risk pregnancy.
Regular prenatal care helps your OB/GYN to diagnose, treat, or manage conditions before they become serious.
The following are some common health problems that can arise during pregnancy:
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): High blood pressure occurs when arteries that deliver oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body are narrowed. This narrowing causes pressure to increase in the arteries. In pregnancy, this can make it hard for blood to reach the placenta, which provides nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. Impaired blood supply can slow the growth of the fetus and place the mother at greater risk of preterm labor and preeclampsia.
Pregnant women who have high blood pressure before pregnancy should continue to monitor and control it throughout their pregnancy. High blood pressure that develops during pregnancy is called gestational hypertension. Normally, gestational hypertension developed during the second half of pregnancy goes away after delivery.
Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes is diabetes (high blood sugar) that develops during pregnancy and usually disappears after giving birth. Gestational diabetes can occur during pregnancy even to women who didn’t have diabetes before pregnancy.
Normally, diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make a sufficient amount of insulin or when the body does not use insulin effectively. In gestational diabetes, change in hormone levels due to pregnancy causes the body to either not makes enough insulin, or not use it normally. Due to this, the glucose builds up in your blood, causing diabetes, otherwise known as high blood sugar.
Controlling and managing gestational diabetes is very important to reduce or prevent problems associated with high blood sugar during pregnancy. If uncontrolled, it can lead to high blood pressure from preeclampsia and having a large infant, which increases the risk for cesarean delivery.
Preterm Labor: Preterm labor is defined as labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy. Infants born before 37 weeks are at an increased risk for health problems because organs such as the lungs and brain will develop completely in the final weeks before a full-term delivery (39 to 40 weeks).
Certain conditions, such as infections, developing a shortened cervix, or previous preterm births can increase the risk for preterm labor. It is very important to discuss your risk for preterm labor with your OB/GYN if you think you have any risks for it.
Pregnancy Loss: Pregnancy loss from natural causes before 20 weeks is called a miscarriage. According to the latest studies, as many as 10% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Signs of pregnancy can include vaginal spotting or bleeding, cramping, or fluid or tissue passing from the vagina. If you experience one or more signs of miscarriage at any point in their pregnancy, you should contact your OB/GYN immediately.
Stillbirth: Stillbirth means loss of pregnancy after the 20th week of pregnancy. Health conditions, such as chromosomal abnormalities, placental problems, poor fetal growth, chronic health issues of the mother, and infection can contribute to stillbirth. Discussing these conditions with your OB/GYN can help take preventive steps to decrease the chances of preventing stillbirth.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum: Hyperemesis gravidarum is a pregnancy complication characterized by severe, persistent nausea and vomiting. Although having some nausea and vomiting is normal during the first trimester of pregnancy, some women experience more severe symptoms that last into the third trimester. What causes hyperemesis gravidarum is not known. Women with hyperemesis gravidarum experience nausea that does not go away, weight loss, reduced appetite, dehydration, and feeling faint. Some women feel better after their 20th week of pregnancy, while others experience the symptoms throughout their pregnancy.
If you experience any signs of hyperemesis gravidarum, contact your OB/GYN immediately, for prompt treatment. Sometimes, the affected women are hospitalized to give fluids and nutrients.
Iron-Deficiency Anemia: Iron-deficiency anemia occurs when the body doesn’t have enough iron. Pregnant women need more iron than normal for the increased amount of blood they produce during pregnancy. This condition somewhat common during pregnancy and is associated with preterm birth and low birth weight. Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and becoming pale. A pregnant woman needs at least 27 mg of iron daily to reduce the risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Prenatal vitamins contain a sufficient quantity of amount of iron. But, some women may need extra iron through iron supplements. Your OB/GYN will screen you for iron-deficiency anemia during early prenatal visits and recommend iron supplements if you have a risk for it.
Infections: There a chance of infections occurring during pregnancy or delivery. The infections can include some sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Infections can cause complications to the pregnant woman, the pregnancy, and the baby after delivery. There is also a chance of some infections passing from mother to infant during delivery when the infant passes through the birth canal. Some of the infections can infect the fetus during pregnancy. Treatment and control of infections during pregnancy is very important. You can prevent many of these infections with proper preconception, prenatal, and postpartum health care.
The following complications can occur if infections during pregnancy are not treated:
- Ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo implants outside of the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube)
- Miscarriage or pregnancy loss before 20 weeks of pregnancy
- Stillbirth (at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy)
- Low birth weight
- Preterm labor and delivery (before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy)
- Birth defects, such as blindness, deafness, bone deformities, and intellectual disability
- Illness to the newborn in the first month of life
- Newborn death
- Maternal health complications
Preeclampsia: Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling of hands and feet. Preeclampsia can lead to preterm delivery and even death. What causes preeclampsia is not known, but some women are at an increased risk.
The following are the risk factors for preeclampsia:
- First pregnancy
- Preeclampsia as a previous pregnancy
- Pre-pregnancy conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, and systemic lupus erythematosus
- Being 35 years of age or older
- Carrying two or more fetuses