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Pregnancy Complications & Questions: When Your Regular Doctor Isn't In

Finding out you’re pregnant can be one of the most exciting times in your life. But it can also be one of the most overwhelming, leading to a whole host of questions and potential worries. These feelings are normal, especially for first-time moms.

Most pregnancies progress without any major complications. In fact, only about 8% of pregnancies lead to incidences that, if left untreated, can be harmful to the mother or baby. Some of these health problems during pregnancy are a result of preexisting conditions, but others occur without a specific cause.

Let’s take a look at this pregnancy complications list to see what some of the most common problems are.

Condition

Likelihood

Symptoms

Treatment

Group B Strep (a kind of bacteria many women naturally have in their intestinal tracts that can also inhabit the vagina and be passed on during labor or birth)

25% of pregnant women carry Group B strep

  • No symptoms

While Group B strep is usually not harmful to you, it can lead to stillbirth and serious infections if passed to your baby. Thus, your doctor will screen you for Group B strep test late in your pregnancy and treat you with antibiotics during labor, if necessary.

Miscarriage (loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks, most often because of chromosomal abnormalities)

Up to 20% of known pregnancies

  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Abdominal pain

Some women will naturally pass fetal tissue, but you might have to have a suction curettage or dilation & curettage (D&C) procedure to remove the tissue.

There are also plenty of resources available to help you deal with grief over the loss of your baby.

Rh Negative (not having the Rhesus factor that most people have on the surface of their red blood cells)

15% of expectant moms

  • No symptoms

Early in your pregnancy, your doctor will test your Rhesus (or Rh) status. If you are Rh negative, there’s a good chance your blood will be incompatible with your baby’s and you’ll need to get an injection of a drug called Rh immune globulin.

Preterm Birth (also called preterm labor, when you have regular contractions that cause your cervix to open before you reach 37 weeks)

12% of babies

  • Increased vaginal discharge (watery, mucus-like or bloody)
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Abdominal pain, menstrual-like cramping or more than 4 contractions in an hour
  • Increased pressure in the pelvic area
  • Low back pain, especially if it’s rhythmic or dull

If you have signs of preterm birth, you’ll mostly likely be asked to go to the hospital where your doctor can monitor your contractions.

You’ll receive a series of tests to determine if your membranes have ruptured or your cervix has dilated. Depending on test results and how far along you are, the doctor may choose to deliver your baby or try to halt labor.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends waiting to deliver if you’re less than 34 weeks, unless there’s a clear reason to do otherwise.

Gestational Diabetes (when your blood sugar levels become too high because your body isn’t producing enough insulin or cells aren’t responding to insulin)

Up to 10% of expectant moms

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Blurred vision

Many pregnant women can manage their gestational diabetes by sticking to an exercise plan and healthy diet. However, you may need to take medication to regulate blood sugar levels.

Gestational Hypertension (also referred to as pregnancy-induced hypertension, when your blood pressure consistently reads 140/90 or higher)

6% of pregnancies

  • High blood pressure readings

Treatment will vary depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy and how high your blood pressure is.

Your doctor will likely order a series of tests to determine whether you have or are at risk for developing preeclampsia. He or she may also ask you to cut back on activity or prescribe a medication.

Preeclampsia (a condition that occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy that can cause hypertension, kidney damage and other problems)

5% of pregnant women

  • Swelling in your face or puffiness around your eyes, or slight swelling in your hands*
  • Sudden or excessive swelling in your feet or ankles
  • Gaining more than 4lb per week
  • Too much protein in your urine

Treatment for preeclampsia depends on several factors, including how severe it is, how far along you are and how your baby’s doing.

It’s possible you’ll be hospitalized for an initial assessment to do blood and urine tests. If you’re at 37 weeks or more, you’ll likely be induced.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum (severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy)

3% of expectant moms

  • Nausea that doesn’t stop
  • Vomiting several times a day
  • Dehydration
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss

Since you will most likely be severely dehydrated, your doctor will probably encourage you to drink fluids. Depending on your condition, you may need to be hospitalized to receive fluids, medication and vitamins intravenously.

Your doctor may also prescribe anti-nausea medication and recommend a diet intended to reduce nausea and vomiting. 

Ectopic Pregnancy (when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, most likely in a fallopian tube)

2% of pregnancies

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain or tenderness
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • Shoulder pain**
  • Signs of shock (racing pulse, dizziness, fainting, and palm/clammy skin)**

Because there is no way to transplant an ectopic pregnancy into the uterus, unfortunately, the only option is ending your pregnancy.

Placenta Previa (when the placenta is lying unusually low in your uterus, next to or covering your cervix)

2% in deliveries

  • Usually no symptoms, but can cause painless vaginal bleeding during the second or third trimesters

If an ultrasound reveals your placenta is covering or close to your cervix, you’ll be put on “pelvic rest” – meaning no intercourse or heavy activity for the rest of your pregnancy. If it hasn’t resolved on its own when it’s time to deliver, you’ll need a cesarean-section (c-section).

* If you experience an intense or persistent headache, vision changes, intense pain in your upper abdomen, or difficulty breathing, you should seek medical attention immediately as these may be signs of severe preeclampsia.

** These could be signs of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and it’s critical to seek medical attention immediately. 

Preventing and Treating Problems During Pregnancy

To make pregnancy as healthy as possible for the over 6 million U.S. women who deliver babies annually, institutions like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conduct continuous research aimed at better understanding pregnancy-related problems. Their findings: complications during pregnancy are exacerbated by health issues like diabetes and obesity before pregnancy.

Thus, if you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider and take action to ensure you’re in optimal health. Then, once you become pregnant, the best thing you can do is receive regular prenatal care, since early detection and proper treatment of any complications are the best way to keep you and your baby healthy.  

First Trimester Pregnancy Complications (Weeks 1 – 12)

Outside of scheduled prenatal visits, you may experience pregnancy symptoms that leave you wondering what’s going on and whether what you’re experiencing is typical. After all, your body is undergoing several changes as you prepare to give birth to another human being!

If in doubt, get in touch with a trusted healthcare provider. While your first thought might be to make an appointment with your OB/GYN, there are times when he or she might not be able to get you in as fast as you would prefer. For cases like these, or if you’re having issues in the evening or over the weekend, an urgent care center can offer safe and efficient treatment or advice.

Urgent care practitioners are trained to help answer some of your most pressing first-trimester pregnancy questions:

Is this much nausea and vomiting normal, even for a pregnant person?

There could be several reasons for constant nausea and vomiting Thanks to hormonal fluctuations, most pregnant women experience “morning sickness” at some point during their first trimester. However, if you can’t seem to keep fluids down and are severely dehydrated, it’s possible you could have hyperemesis gravidarum.

I’m spotting... Am I having a miscarriage?

Light spotting or bleeding during pregnancy is not uncommon. If you’re experiencing heavy bleeding accompanied with cramping or abdominal pain, however, it could be a sign of a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. Don’t jump to any conclusions though – see a provider for an exam as soon as possible.

I have a fever while pregnant. Should I be concerned?

Temperatures over 101°F (38°C), whether you’re pregnant or not, usually mean your body is fighting an infection. Since your little one is developing all its major organs during the first trimester, spiking a fever can be harmful to your baby and in rare cases lead to birth defects. It’s important to seek treatment immediately.

What’s causing this pain when I pee?

A burning sensation or pain when you urinate is likely the result of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which is particularly common during pregnancy because of changes in your urinary tract. If left untreated, a UTI can lead to a more serious kidney infection or preterm birth.

It’s irritated down there. What should I do?

Increased vaginal discharge and irritation should be expected during pregnancy. But should these symptoms not subside, it’s possible you could have a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or a sexually transmitted disease. Talk to your doctor about treatment based on a diagnosis.

Like many walk-in clinics, GoHealth Urgent Care offers pregnancy tests (at minimal or no cost depending on your insurance) to verify at home test results. Additionally, we can easily arrange for an ultrasound at a nearby outpatient radiology facility or affiliate hospital should you require one.

Second Trimester (Weeks 13 – 28) & Third Trimester (Weeks 29 – 40) Pregnancy Complications

Continuing prenatal checkups with your OB/GYN during the second and third trimesters helps ensure you and your baby are progressing normally through pregnancy. Between weeks 18 – 22, an ultrasound will be performed to measure for proper growth and assess the functioning of key organs. If your baby isn’t developing at a normal rate, he or she may be diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR).

Toward the end of the second trimester, your doctor will perform a glucose test for gestational diabetes to make certain your body reacts properly to sugar during pregnancy. You’ll also be monitored for gestational hypertension (high blood pressure), a complication that can be a precursor to a more serious condition called preeclampsia. Third-trimester screenings for protein in your urine will also help to determine whether you have preeclampsia.

Between weeks 35 – 37, you’ll receive a pregnancy strep test for Group B strep. This type of bacteria can be a threat to newborns if passed on during pregnancy, so if it’s determined you have Group B strep, you’ll be given antibiotics during labor to prevent your baby from getting it.

While screenings for certain conditions can help to diagnose or prevent some pregnancy complications, there are other complications that might appear without warning. Preterm labor can occur before 37 weeks. Statistics show that women carrying twins or multiples or who’ve had previous preterm birth are more likely to deliver early, but there are other unpredictable factors like Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM) or cervical incompetence that can lead to preterm labor.

If you experience bleeding during the third trimester, it could be a sign of a rare pregnancy complication like placenta previa or placental abruption. Depending on how profuse the bleeding is and how far along in you are, your doctor may choose to perform an immediate c-section or wait until your baby is more near-term.

Let's Recap

Complications can occur during pregnancy, but they might not be as common as you think. By going to regular appointments with your OB/GYN and checking in, if necessary, with experts at urgent care centers like GoHealth Urgent Care, you can ensure you’re on the right track to doing everything you can to give your baby a healthy start in life. When you hold your little one for the first time, you’ll be really happy you prioritized taking care of the both of you throughout pregnancy.

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