Complications of pregnancy

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Complications of pregnancy
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 O00-O48
ICD-9 630-648
MeSH D011248

Complications of pregnancy are problems that are caused by pregnancy. There is no clear distinction between complications of pregnancy and symptoms and discomforts of pregnancy. However, the latter do not significantly interfere with activities of daily living or pose any significant threat to the health of the mother or baby. In contrast, pregnancy complications may cause both maternal death and fetal death if untreated. Still, in some cases the same basic feature can manifest as either a discomfort or a complication depending on the severity. For example, mild nausea may merely be a discomfort (morning sickness), but if severe and with vomiting causing water-electrolyte imbalance it can be classified as a pregnancy complication (hyperemesis gravidarum).

Maternal problems[edit]

The following problems originate mainly in the mother.

Hyperemesis gravidarum[edit]

Hyperemesis gravidarum is the presence of severe vomiting and dehydration, which causes the mother to lose weight. It is more severe than the more common morning sickness.

Pelvic girdle pain (PGP)[edit]

  • Caused by: PGP disorder is complex and multi-factorial and likely to be represented by a series of sub-groups with different underlying pain drivers from peripheral or central nervous system, altered laxity/stiffness of muscles, laxity to injury of tendinous/ligamentous structures to ‘mal-adaptive’ body mechanics. Musculo-Skeletal Mechanics involved in gait and weight bearing activities can be mild to grossly impaired. PGP can begin peri or postpartum. For most women PGP resolves in weeks after delivery but for some it can last for years resulting in a reduced tolerance for weight bearing activities.
  • Treatment: The degree of treatment is based on the severity. A mild case would require rest, rehabilitation therapy and pain is usually manageable. More severe cases would also include mobility aids, strong analgesics and sometimes surgery. One of the main factors in helping women cope is with education, information and support. Many treatment options are available.

Severe hypertensive states[edit]

Further information: Gestational hypertension

Potential severe hypertensive states of pregnancy are mainly:

Deep vein thrombosis[edit]

For more info on DVT and pregnancy, see Deep vein thrombosis.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) has an incidence of 0.5 to 7 per 1,000 pregnancies, and is the second most common cause of maternal death in developed countries after bleeding.[1]


WHO levels of hemoglobin are lower in the third trimesters. According to the United Nations (UN) estimates, approximately half of pregnant women suffer from anemia worldwide. Anemia prevalences during pregnancy differed from 18% in developed countries to 75% in South Asia.[2] Treatment varies due to the severity of the anaemia, and can be used by increasing iron containing foods, oral iron tablets or by the use of parenteral iron.


A pregnant woman is more susceptible to certain infections. This increased risk is caused by an increased immune tolerance in pregnancy to prevent an immune reaction against the fetus, as well as secondary to maternal physiological changes including a decrease in respiratory volumes and urinary stasis due to an enlarging uterus.[3] Pregnant women are more severely affected by, for example, influenza, hepatitis E, herpes simplex and malaria.[3] The evidence is more limited for coccidioidomycosis, measles, smallpox, and varicella.[3]

Some infections are vertically transmissible, meaning that they can affect the child as well.

Fetal problems[edit]

The following problems occur in the fetus or placenta, but may have serious consequences on the mother as well.

Ectopic pregnancy (implantation of the embryo outside the uterus)[edit]

Main article: Ectopic pregnancy
  • Caused by: Unknown, but risk factors include smoking, advanced maternal age, and prior damage to the Fallopian tubes.
  • Treatment: If there is no spontaneous resolution, the pregnancy is usually aborted to prevent injury or death to the mother.

Placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterus)[edit]

Main article: Placental abruption
  • Caused by: Various causes; risk factors include maternal hypertension, trauma, and drug use.
  • Treatment: Immediate delivery if the fetus is mature (36 weeks or older), or if a younger fetus or the mother is in distress. In less severe cases with immature fetuses, the situation may be monitored in hospital, with treatment if necessary.

Multiple pregnancies[edit]

Main article: Multiple birth

Multiples may become monochorionic, sharing the same chorion, with resultant risk of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. Monochorionic multiples may even become monoamniotic, sharing the same amniotic sac, resulting in risk of umbilical cord compression and entanglement. In very rare cases, there may be conjoined twins, possibly impairing function of internal organs.

Vertically transmitted infection[edit]

The embryo and fetus have little or no immune function. They depend on the immune function of their mother. Several pathogens can cross the placenta and cause (perinatal) infection. Often microorganisms that produce minor illness in the mother are very dangerous for the developing embryo or fetus. This can result in spontaneous abortion or major developmental disorders. For many infections, the baby is more at risk at particular stages of pregnancy. Problems related to perinatal infection are not always directly noticeable.

The term TORCH complex refers to a set of several different infections that may be caused by transplacental infection.

Babies can also become infected by their mother during birth. During birth, babies are exposed to maternal blood and body fluids without the placental barrier intervening and to the maternal genital tract. Because of this, blood-borne microorganisms (Hepatitis B, HIV), organisms associated with sexually transmitted disease (e.g., Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia), and normal fauna of the genito-urinary tract (e.g., Candida) are among those commonly seen in infection of newborns.

General risk factors[edit]

Factors increasing the risk (to either the woman, the fetus/es, or both) of pregnancy complications beyond the normal level of risk may be present in a woman's medical profile either before she becomes pregnant or during the pregnancy.[4] These pre-existing factors may relate to physical and/or mental health, and/or to social issues, or a combination.[5]

Some common risk factors include:

High-risk pregnancy[edit]

Some disorders and conditions can mean that pregnancy is considered high-risk (about 6-8% of pregnancies in the USA) and in extreme cases may be contraindicated. High-risk pregnancies are the main focus of doctors specialising in maternal-fetal medicine.

Serious pre-existing disorders which can reduce a woman's physical ability to survive pregnancy include a range of congenital defects (that is, conditions with which the woman herself was born, for example, those of the heart or reproductive organs, some of which are listed above) and diseases acquired at any time during the woman's life.

Low-risk pregnancy[edit]

A Dutch 2010 research showed that "low-risk" pregnancy in the Netherlands may actually carry a higher risk of perinatal death than a "high-risk" pregnancy.[13] A medical news report observed, "Under the Dutch system of obstetric care, women with low-risk pregnancies are supervised by a midwife in primary care, with the choice of a home or hospital delivery, whereas those with potential complicating factors are supervised by an obstetrician throughout their pregnancy and given a hospital delivery".[14]

See also[edit]

Extra Links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Venös tromboembolism (VTE) — Guidelines for treatment in C counties. Bengt Wahlström, Emergency department, Uppsala Academic Hospital. January 2008
  2. ^ Wang S, An L, Cochran SD (2002). "Women". In Detels R, McEwen J, Beaglehole R, Tanaka H. Oxford textbook of public health (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 1587–601. 
  3. ^ a b c Kourtis, Athena P.; Read, Jennifer S.; Jamieson, Denise J. (2014). "Pregnancy and Infection". New England Journal of Medicine 370 (23): 2211–2218. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1213566. ISSN 0028-4793. 
  4. ^ "Health problems in pregnancy". Medline Plus. US National Library of Medicine. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Merck. "Risk factors present before pregnancy". Merck Manual Home Health Handbook. Merck Sharp & Dohme. 
  6. ^ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. Preventing Smoking and Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Before, During, and After Pregnancy.
  7. ^ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009. Tobacco Use and Pregnancy: Home.
  8. ^ a b "New Mother Fact Sheet: Methamphetamine Use During Pregnancy". North Dakota Department of Health. Retrieved 7 October 2011. 
  9. ^ Grotta, Sheri; LaGasse, Linda; Arria, Amelia; Derauf, Chris (30 June 2009). "Patterns of Methamphetamine Use During Pregnancy: Results from the IDEAL Study". Matern Child Health J 14 (4): 519–527. doi:10.1007/s10995-009-0491-0. PMC 2895902. PMID 19565330. 
  10. ^ Gavin, AR; Holzman, C; Siefert, K; Tian, Y (2009). "MATERNAL DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS, DEPRESSION AND PSYCHIATRIC MEDICATION USE IN RELATION TO RISK OF PRETERM DELIVERY". Women's Health Issues 19 (5): 325–34. doi:10.1016/j.whi.2009.05.004. PMC 2839867. PMID 19733802. 
  11. ^ Eisenberg, Leon; Brown, Sarah Hart (1995). The best intentions: unintended pregnancy and the well-being of children and families. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. ISBN 0-309-05230-0. Retrieved 2011-09-03. 
  12. ^ "Family Planning - Healthy People 2020". Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  13. ^ Evers, A. C. C.; Brouwers, H. A. A.; Hukkelhoven, C. W. P. M.; Nikkels, P. G. J.; Boon, J.; Van Egmond-Linden, A.; Hillegersberg, J.; Snuif, Y. S.; Sterken-Hooisma, S.; Bruinse, H. W.; Kwee, A. (2010). "Perinatal mortality and severe morbidity in low and high risk term pregnancies in the Netherlands: prospective cohort study". BMJ 341: c5639. doi:10.1136/bmj.c5639. PMID 21045050. 
  14. ^ Neal, Todd (2011). "Medical News: Dutch System of Obstetric Care Called into Question - in OB/Gyn, Pregnancy from MedPage Today". Retrieved 27 January 2011. A 'low-risk' pregnancy in the Netherlands may actually carry a higher risk of perinatal death than a 'high-risk' pregnancy, researchers found.