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What health problems can develop during pregnancy?

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Regular prenatal visits help the health care provider identify potential health problems early and take steps to manage them, to protect the health of the mother and the developing fetus. These problems include1:

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Anemia occurs when your red blood cell count (hemoglobin or hematocrit) is low. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. Iron is part of the hemoglobin that allows blood to carry oxygen. Pregnant women need more iron than normal for the increased amount of blood in their body and for their developing child.2 Symptoms of iron deficiency include feeling tired or weak, looking pale, feeling faint, or experiencing shortness of breath. Your health care provider may recommend iron and folic acid supplements.3

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels get too high during pregnancy. Between 5% and 6% of pregnant women are diagnosed with the condition every year in the United States.4 Most often the condition is discovered using a two-step procedure: screening with the glucose challenge screening test around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy, followed by a diagnostic test called the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of a baby that is too large (macrosomia), preeclampsia (pronounced pree-i-KLAMP-see-uh, a condition marked by a sudden increase in a pregnant woman’s blood pressure along with the presence of protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy), and cesarean birth. Treatment includes controlling blood sugar levels through a healthy diet and exercise, and through medication if blood sugar values remain high.5

Depression

Some women experience extreme sadness during pregnancy. There is no single cause of depression, but it may result from hormonal changes, stress, family history, or changes in brain chemistry or structure.6 Depression can harm your developing infant if you do not take care of yourself during pregnancy, including attending regular prenatal visits and avoiding alcohol and tobacco smoke. Talk to your health care provider about treatment options.

High Blood Pressure Related to Pregnancy

Women with high blood pressure that starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy will need to be monitored closely because of the risk of preeclampsia.

Fetal Problems

Possible problems in the fetus include decreased movement after 28 weeks of pregnancy and being measured as smaller than normal. These pregnancies often require closer follow-up including more testing such as ultrasound exams, non-stress testing and biophysical profiles as well as possible early delivery.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

(Pronounced HEYE-pur-EM-uh-suhss grav-uh-DAR-uhm). Some women experience severe, persistent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy beyond the typical "morning sickness." Medication may be prescribed to help with the nausea. Women with hyperemesis gravidarum may need hospitalization to get the fluids and nutrients they need through a tube in their veins. Often, the condition lessens by the 20th week of pregnancy.

Miscarriage

Pregnancy loss from natural causes before the 20th week is considered miscarriage. As many as 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.7 The most common cause of first trimester miscarriage is chromosomal problems. Symptoms can include cramping or bleeding. Spotting early in pregnancy is common and does not mean that a miscarriage will occur.

Placenta Previa

This condition occurs when the placenta covers part of the opening of the cervix inside the uterus. It can cause painless bleeding during the second and third trimesters. The health care provider may recommend bed rest. Hospitalization may be required if bleeding is heavy or if it keeps happening.

Placental Abruption

In some women, the placenta separates from the inner uterine wall. This separation, or abruption, can be mild, moderate, or severe. If severe, the fetus cannot get the oxygen and nutrients needed to survive. Placental abruption can cause bleeding, cramping, or uterine tenderness. Treatment depends on the severity of the abruption and how far along the pregnancy is. Severe cases may require early delivery.

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia starts after the 20th week of pregnancy. This condition causes high blood pressure, swelling of the hands and face, abdominal pain, blurred vision, dizziness, and headaches. In some cases, seizures can occur—this is called eclampsia (pronounced ih-KLAMP-see-uh). The only definite cure for preeclampsia and eclampsia is to deliver the baby. If this would result in a premature birth, then the maternal and fetal risks and benefits of delivery need to be balanced with the risks associated with the infant being born prematurely.

Preterm Labor

Going into labor before the fetus is term (37 weeks) is a major risk factor for complications for the infant and future preterm births.

Being aware of the symptoms of these conditions and getting regular prenatal care can prevent health problems and help you get treatment as early as possible.


  1. Womenshealth.gov. (2010, September 27). Pregnancy: Pregnancy complications. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/you-are-pregnant/pregnancy-complications.cfm [top]
  2. Anemia.org. (2008, September 19). Women & anemia: Increased need for iron during pregnancy. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from http://www.anemia.org/patients/feature-articles/content.php?contentid=000245§ionid=00015 External Web Site Policy [top]
  3. Medline Plus. (2011, May 30). Iron deficiency anemia. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000584.htm [top]
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). National diabetes fact sheet: National estimates and general information on diabetes and prediabetes in the United States, 2011. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [top]
  5. NICHD. (2005, June). Fact sheet: Am I at risk for gestational diabetes? Retrieved June 15, 2012. [top]
  6. Womenshealth.gov. (2009, March 6). Publications: Depression during and after pregnancy fact sheet. Retrieved May 19, 2012, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/depression-pregnancy.html [top]
  7. MedlinePlus. (2012, May 30). Miscarriage. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001488.htm [top]

Last Updated Date: 10/22/2013
Last Reviewed Date: 07/15/2013
Vision National Institutes of Health Home BOND National Institues of Health Home Home Storz Lab: Section on Environmental Gene Regulation Home Machner Lab: Unit on Microbial Pathogenesis Home Division of Intramural Population Health Research Home Bonifacino Lab: Section on Intracellular Protein Trafficking Home Lilly Lab: Section on Gamete Development Home Lippincott-Schwartz Lab: Section on Organelle Biology