Common pregnancy complications and how to manage them
Of the millions of women who become pregnant in the United States each year, most can expect to have healthy pregnancies and deliveries. A small percentage of women, however, will develop pregnancy complications.
A pregnancy complication is a health problem occurring during pregnancy that can potentially harm the mother, baby or both. Some women will also have health problems before becoming pregnant that can affect their pregnancy. Here are some common pregnancy complications our OB-GYN providers at SIU Medicine help pregnant women prevent and manage.
Anemia happens when a pregnant person has low levels of red blood cells. Red blood cells are critical for carrying oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. In pregnant women, anemia may present with signs and symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, faintness or lightheadedness and a pale appearance.
As with all pregnancy complications, anemia will be closely monitored by a woman's health care provider throughout pregnancy. Treatment may include dietary modifications and supplements, including iron and folic acid.
Severe morning sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum)
Most of us have heard about morning sickness in pregnancy, especially within the first trimester. It's thought that rapidly rising levels of a hormone released by the growing placenta, called HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), may cause this uncomfortable issue.
But while mild morning sickness usually does not pose any serious problems, some women develop severe and persistent nausea and vomiting, which can lead to complications like dehydration, weight loss and fetal malnourishment. Severe morning sickness, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, can be managed through approaches like eating bland foods and taking anti-nausea medications. In extreme cases, some women may require hospitalization for additional intravenous (IV) fluids and nutrients.
Urinary tract infections
According to the U.S. Office on Women's Health, more than half of women will develop a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lives. UTIs, which happen when bacteria infect the urinary tract, can be particularly uncomfortable during pregnancy. Classic signs and symptoms include frequent, painful and/or burning urination along with abdominal, pelvic, flank and lower back pain. A woman may also experience chills or fever.
It's important to be treated for a UTI if you experience one during pregnancy, as untreated UTIs may lead to further complications like kidney infections or preterm labor. Other types of infections, including respiratory infections like COVID-19 and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also require treatment from your doctor.
Some women have depression or other mental health conditions prior to pregnancy, which can exacerbate their symptoms. Others develop persistent symptoms of depression during pregnancy, which can include decreased interest in usually enjoyable activities, difficulty concentrating or making decisions and feelings of sadness, worthlessness, guilt and irritability.
Women who have depression during pregnancy may struggle to care properly for themselves and their babies, and may be more at risk for postpartum depression, too. If you're concerned about your mental health before, during or after your pregnancy, let your doctor know. They can help you determine the safest and most effective treatment for you and your baby, which may include psychotherapy, stress management techniques and medication.
Preeclampsia is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication associated with high blood pressure, kidney problems and other concerns. It usually develops sometime after the 20th week of pregnancy. Women with preeclampsia may experience high blood pressure, stomach pain, dizziness, headaches, blurry vision, swelling in the hands and face and increased protein in the urine.
Preeclampsia can require very close monitoring including bed rest, medications and even hospitalization. Induced labor is often necessary.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman has too much sugar in her blood during pregnancy. It's common to have no symptoms, but some women notice increased thirst, urination, hunger and/or fatigue. Having gestational diabetes increases the risk of additional complications, including preterm birth, cesarean (C-section) delivery, preeclampsia, having a large baby or having a baby born with breathing problems, jaundice or very low blood sugar.
Typically, prenatal care providers screen for gestational diabetes. Treatment generally includes diet and exercise interventions. Medication may be necessary if a woman is unable to control her blood sugar levels through diet and exercise alone.
Excessive weight gain and obesity
It's normal and healthy to gain some weight during pregnancy. But gaining too much—or being overweight or obese before becoming pregnant—is associated with an increased risk of other pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and congenital defects in babies.
Your doctor can help you determine how much weight is an appropriate amount for you to gain based on your current weight and body mass index (BMI). Getting to a healthy weight before becoming pregnant has also been shown to be beneficial for expecting moms and their babies.
Placenta previa occurs when the placenta partially or complete covers the opening of the cervix inside a pregnant woman's uterus. Some women will have no symptoms, while others may experience painless vaginal bleeding in the second or third trimester.
Placenta previa increases the risk of severe bleeding during labor and delivery, which can be life-threatening. Management of this condition varies, but may include bed rest or restricting activity, hospitalization (if vaginal bleeding is heavy) or cesarean delivery.
Do you have concerns about your pregnancy?
If you're looking for a prenatal provider who can help you feel more confident and comfortable throughout your pregnancy journey, find a doctor today at SIU Medicine.