It’s important to be aware of potential complications of pregnancy. Understanding early warning signs will help you know when to seek care, and knowing risk factors can help you determine your level of risk. Here are some examples:
Preeclampsia occurs when a woman experiences a sudden increase in blood pressure after her twentieth week of pregnancy. The condition can affect the mother’s kidney, liver, and brain and if not treated, can lead to long-term health problems and death of the mother and/or baby. Symptoms include high blood pressure, too much protein in the urine, swelling of face and hands, and problems such as headache, blurred vision, and abdominal pain. Risk factors for preeclampsia include high blood pressure before pregnancy or during previous pregnancies, obesity, age younger than twenty or older than forty, and certain health conditions including diabetes and kidney disease. The only cure for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, though in some cases doctors will try to prolong the pregnancy so that the fetus can grow and mature more.
Eclampsia is more severe form of preeclampsia. Mothers suffering from eclampsia may be at risk for seizures and coma.
Diabetes that occurs during pregnancy in a woman who has not had diabetes before is called gestational diabetes. Women at average risk of gestational diabetes are tested during weeks 24 to 28 of their pregnancy, and women at higher risk (such as those with a family history of type 2 diabetes) may be tested very early in pregnancy. When a mother controls gestational diabetes by maintaining normal blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and staying physically active, she is likely to have a healthy baby. When uncontrolled, however, gestational diabetes can adversely affect the baby.
Preterm labor occurs when the mother’s body tries to deliver the baby too early—before the pregnancy is full-term at 36 weeks. Symptoms may feel like menstrual cramping or a mild backache. If preterm labor contractions increase in frequency, strength, and length, there is a risk of delivering the baby too early. Serious instances of preterm labor may be treated with bed rest and medication; the goal of treatment is to allow the pregnancy to reach full-term.
A miscarriage is a loss of pregnancy from natural causes that occurs before the twentieth week of pregnancy. Miscarriages are usually not preventable, nor are they the mother’s fault. There are, however, several risk factors that may contribute to the loss of pregnancy; these include a chromosomal abnormality in the fetus, problems with the uterus or cervix, and PCOS. Symptoms include spotting or bleeding, cramping or abdominal pain, and fluid or tissue passing through the vagina. If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development Web site. Available at: www.nichd.nih.gov. Accessed September 2010.
Womenshealth.gov Web site. Available at: www.womenshealth.gov. Accessed September 2010.
Pregancy.org Web site. Available at: www.pregnancy.org. Accessed September 2010.