Pregnancy Complications

Health problems experienced by a mother-to-be and her future offspring are known as pregnancy complications. Although most women have normal pregnancies without major health troubles, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that around 15 percent of all pregnant women develop a potentially life-threatening complications.

Pregnancy complications usually comprise of more severe conditions and should not be mistaken for normal discomforts experienced during most pregnancies. The latter can include food aversions, anemia, backache and bleeding gums. The most common problem observed during pregnancy is morning sickness. It is characterized by nausea and vomiting, which despite the name of the disease, can happen during any time of the day.

Gestational diabetes is another type of pregnancy complication, which occurs when the pregnant woman does not produce sufficient quantities of insulin to handle the increased blood sugar that normally accompanies pregnancy. Women who are older, overweight, or who have a family history of the disease are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. The problem can be managed by a special diet and medication.

Another common type of pregnancy complication is pregnancy-caused hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure. This condition can have several different forms depending on its gravity. The least severe one is high blood pressure without proteinuria, protein in the urine. The presence of proteinuria changes the diagnosis from hypertension to pre-eclampsia. The latter can evolve into eclampsia, which is a serious complication and can have fatal consequences.

Pregnancy-induced hypertension can result in swelling of the face, the upper and lower limbs and rapid weight gain. If left untreated, this complication can cause problems with the kidneys and the liver, blurred vision, convulsions and even coma. The problem can be handled at an early stage if the patient rests in bed. Medication is also effective, with magnesium sulfate often prescribed by physicians.

Another pregnancy complication is placenta praevia, a placenta that is lying low in the uterus. This problem can lead to premature labor and sometimes demands cesarean section, the surgical incision of the abdomen and uterus to help deliver offspring. However, the problem can be contained if the patient stays in bed in the period leading up to birth.

An incompetent cervix is a complication that leads to about 25 percent of all late miscarriages. It appears when the cervix, the muscular opening of the uterus into the vagina, opens too early due to the pressure from the fetus. The problem can be handled by using a procedure to stitch the cervix or by bed rest. An incompetent cervix can be a result of many factors, including genetic ones. A more serious complication is ectopic pregnancy, also called tubal pregnancy. It occurs when the fertilized egg develops outside of the uterus, most often in a fallopian tube.

Premature birth and pre-term labor also represent pregnancy complications. A delivery before the 37th week of pregnancy is defined as a premature birth. Pre-term labor is the cause for around one-third of premature born babies. Another cause for premature birth include the early rupture of the amniotic sac, the membrane around the fetus containing the amniotic fluid.

Miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, is one of the severest complications of pregnancy. A woman suffers a miscarriage when her pregnancy suddenly terminates on its own. Symptoms of miscarriage are bleeding, cramping and abdominal pain. The majority of miscarriages happen before the 14th week of pregnancy but there are also late miscarriages that occur during the second trimester. If the baby is born dead after the 20th week of the pregnancy, the complication is called stillbirth.

Reasons for miscarriage can be various and there has been extensive research into this condition. According to scientists, early miscarriages often occur when the body rejects a fetus that is not developing in a proper way. Later miscarriages, on the other hand, can be due to health factors such as the improper attachment of the placenta to the uterus.

Although the causes for developing different pregnancy complications vary widely, certain risk factors have already been determined. Women who are more than 35 years old have a higher chance than younger women of suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease during pregnancies. Teenagers are twice as likely to give premature birth to babies and to have babies with low weight than older women. Teenage mothers are also more likely to experience premature and prolonged labor.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Pregnancy for Older Women: Assessing the Medical Risks
Phyllis Kernoff Mansfield.
Praeger, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of pregnancy complications in multiple chapters
Prenatal Testing: A Sociological Perspective
Aliza Kolker; B. Meredith Burke.
Bergin & Garvey, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of pregnancy complications in multiple chapters
Pregnancy, Birth, and the Early Months: The Thinking Woman's Guide
Richard I. Feinbloom.
Perseus Publishing, 2000 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Special Situations and Complications"
Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting: Findings from a Racially Diverse Sample
Patricia L. East; Marianne E. Felice.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Prenatal Care and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes"
Diabetes, Beating the Odds: The Doctor's Guide to Reducing Your Risk
Elliot J. Rayfield; Cheryl Solimini; Mona Mark.
Perseus Books, 1992
Librarian’s tip: "Gestational Diabetes" begins on p. 31
Conquering High Blood Pressure: The Complete Guide to Managing Hypertension
Stephen Wood; Bert P. A. Griffith.
Perseus Books, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "High Blood Pressure and Pregnancy" begins on p. 102
Birth Stories: Mystery, Power, and Creation
Jane Dwinell.
Bergin & Garvey, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of pregnancy complications in multiple chapters
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