|Pregnancy Complications Explained
The vast majority of women have uncomplicated pregnancies and go on to have a safe delivery. However unfortunately in some circumstances complications do arise which lead to difficulties during pregnancy or labor. Some of these problems are routine and easy to resolve, others may be serious enough to endanger the life of the fetus or mother if untreated. Women suffering from pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, kidney problems and STDs will be considered high risk categories from the onset. Pregnancy after 35 may require some extra observation. The following are a list of the most common types of pregnancy complications:
Bleeding During Pregnancy
Vaginal bleeding frequently occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy (in 20-30 percent of pregnant women) and may not be a problem. Bleeding which occurs during the second or third trimester however may be a sign of something more serious like a stillbirth or placenta previa. Alternatively it may only be a minor condition caused for example by an inflamed cervix or growths on the cervix. See bleeding during pregnancy as well as what causes brown spotting?
Statistics show there are 600,000 miscarriages every year in America. A pregnancy loss before 20 weeks is technically known as a spontaneous abortion (SAB), or miscarriage. Symptoms include heavy vaginal bleeding with blood clots and severe pregnancy cramps or pain. Not all spotting or bleeding results in a miscarriage, so it is not necessarily a cause for concern. Most miscarriages occur before week 13 of pregnancy. There are different types of miscarriages including a chemical pregnancy, blighted ovum, missed miscarriage, incomplete miscarriage and threatened miscarriage – all of which require different treatments. Read: what are the signs of a miscarriage? and what is a chemical pregnancy?
A normal pregnancy should last about 40 weeks. Where labor starts after week 20 but before week 37, this is considered a premature labor. Premature labor occurs in about 12 percent of pregnancies, one leading cause is premature rupture of membranes (PROM). Babies born prematurely are at risk for future health problems, but fortunately due to advances in medical care and technology their care is improving.
This is the medical term for severe morning sickness or nausea during pregnancy. Symptoms include nausea or vomiting (up to 30 times a day). This condition can result in rapid weight loss and dehydration. Hyperemesis gravidarum occurs in less than 1 percent of pregnancies and may, if a woman if unfortunate, last for the duration of the pregnancy trimesters. Mild cases are usually treated with bed rest and antacids. Severe cases require a hospital stay and an intravenous drip (IV) to provide the mother with fluids and nutrients.
Gestational diabetes in most cases is a temporary form of diabetes which occurs in pregnant women. It may also be called carbohydrate intolerance or glucose intolerance. It occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin to deal with sugar during pregnancy. Between 4 to 8 percent of pregnant women develop this condition. Symptoms include unusual thirst and fatigue but it may only be discovered during routine prenatal visits. If the pregnancy is well controlled by a gynecologist there is little need for concern, the pregnancy can develop normally.
Also known as metabolic toxemia, preeclampsia is a disorder which develops generally in late pregnancy (after week 20). If untreated it can progress to eclampsia and cause other complications such as premature labor. Where high blood pressure, fluid retention (edema) and protein in the urine (proteinuria) suddenly appear together, this is known as preeclampsia. Regular prenatal care is the best way to catch preeclampsia early, so that it can be managed.
This is a series of symptoms which when they occur together make up a syndrome. HELLP syndrome is believed to be a type of preeclampsia which almost always occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy. The acronym stands for: (H) Hemolysis, where red blood cells are destroyed too soon causing low red cell count, (EL) Elevated Liver enzymes, which indicates the liver is not functioning properly and (LP) Low Platelets count, which makes it difficult for the blood to clot. The cause is still unclear and the syndrome is often misdiagnosed. It occurs in less than 1 percent of pregnancies.
If you are expecting your first child, read our pregnancy tips on do's and don'ts such as avoiding taking aspirin during pregnancy.
Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR)
Intrauterine Growth Restriction is a term used for a fetus which is smaller than normal during pregnancy (image). Specifically: a baby's weight that is below the 10th percentile for gestational age. This is usually discovered during routine pregnancy ultrasound scans. The 'condition' is also known as fetal growth restriction or small-for gestational age (SGA). IUGR occurs in about 10 percent of all pregnancies and is more common in the first and fifth pregnancy.
Placental abruption, also called abruptio placentae (image), is the early separation of the placenta (the baby's life support system) from the uterine wall. This can occur any time after week 20 of pregnancy but is more common in the third trimester. About 1 percent of pregnant women will experience this complication and as long as separation is slight and treatment applied, there is little danger to mother or baby. The more severe the abruption, the more serious the consequences as the baby may be deprived of oxygen. If abruption is significant it can result in a cesarean section.
This refers to where the placenta is 'low-lying' and partially or completely covers the opening of the cervix. In early pregnancy low lying placenta is normal but as the baby grows the placenta usually moves up and away from the cervix. It can block the baby's passage into the birth canal making a vaginal delivery impossible, and so a C-section delivery is necessary. Placenta previa can also cause bleeding in late pregnancy and delivery. It occurs in about 1 in 200 pregnancies.
Low amniotic fluid levels, oligohydramnios (image) develops in about 4 percent of pregnant women. It usually develops in late pregnancy, during the third trimester. Although most women diagnosed with the complication will continue to have healthy pregnancies there are some slight risks to the fetus. Polyhydramnios (image) by contrast is a condition where too much amniotic fluid surrounds the fetus.
Less Common Problems
Molar Pregnancy: Where the placenta grows improperly and develops cysts.
Cervical Cancer: Early and advanced cases of cervical cancer. See cervical cancer in pregnancy.
Choriocarcinoma: A rare form or cancer related to pregnancy.
Cholestasis: Build up of bile acids which spill into the blood stream.
Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT): Development of blood clots in the veins. See also varicose veins in pregnancy.
Intrauterine Fetal Death: The death of a fetus before labor or childbirth. See, intrauterine fetal death.
Ovarian Tumors: Benign and non-benign ovary growths. Read, ovarian tumors during pregnancy.
Placenta Accreta: Abnormally firm attachment of the placenta to the womb wall.
Placental insufficiency: Restriction of blood flow to the baby due to a problem with the placenta. See placental insufficiency.
Vasa Previa: Fetal blood vessels develop abnormally.
Vanishing Twin Syndrome: When one of a set of twins or multiple fetuses disappears in the womb during pregnancy. See pregnant with twins.
Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD): Pelvic bone ligaments become too relaxed before birth causing pain.
Stroke and Heart Arrhythmia: Heart disease in pregnancy.
Congestive Heart Disease: Childbirth is one of the rare causes of heart failure.
Minor Pregnancy Complications
• Anemia in Pregnancy
• Back Pain While Pregnant
• Bleeding Gums and Teeth Problems
• Cervical Polyps in Pregnancy.
• Constipation During Pregnancy
• Dermoid Cysts
• Digestive Problems in Pregnancy: Acid reflux, appendicitis.
• Dizziness While Pregnant
• Fever in pregnancy: Common causes and when to call a doctor.
• Fibroids During Pregnancy
• Flu During Pregnancy
• Food Cravings
• Hair Loss
• Heartburn, Acid Reflux
• High Blood Pressure in pregnancy (gestational hypertension)
• Hot Flashes
• Hemorrhoids during Pregnancy
• Infertility, Problems conceiving a baby
• Kidney infection during pregnancy (pyelonephritis)
• Metallic Taste in Mouth
• Mood swings
• Need To Urinate More Frequently
• Nosebleeds & Stuffy Nose
• Ovarian Cysts during Pregnancy
• Heart Palpitations
• Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy
• Pins & Needles
• Pregnancy Breast Changes
• Stretch Marks
• Thyroid Disease and Pregnancy
• Urinary Tract Infections
• Varicose Veins in Pregnancy
• Yeast Infections
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When You Are Trying For a Baby
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For more related questions see health questions for women.