Be Aware Of These 5 Medical Concerns During Pregnancy

Listening to your body, exercising and following a healthy eating diet plan are important factors to consider whether pregnant or not, but you should be aware of some common medical concerns during pregnancy.

Doctor examining a pregnant woman

Registered midwife and nurse Ali Pickles has put together some information together about pregnancy complications.

Hopefully you won’t suffer from any of these, but it’s always wise to be vigilant and keep an eye out for symptoms.

5 Common Medical Complications of Pregnancy:

1. Asthma

  • Some women find their asthma worsens during pregnancy and others it remains unchanged or even improves. During pregnancy as the baby grows, the uterus also grows and starts pushing on the diaphragm.
  • If you have serious asthma, speak to your GP in the early stages of your pregnancy to put together and asthma management plan.
  • Remember, it’s a myth that asthma medication affects the growing and development of your baby. Although it is possible asthmatics may have a slightly higher risk of premature birth or babies born with a lower birth weight.
  • It’s safe to continue to exercise during pregnancy with asthma, but just change what you do if it exacerbates your asthma.

 2. Haemorrhoids

Commonly referred to as piles, haemorrhoids are a cluster of veins in your anus. They can be internal or external.

Everybody needs these blood filled sacs as they help the sphincter muscle absorb the variations in abdominal pressure. Meaning when we cough and sneeze we don’t always pass gas every time.

During normal actions of using your bowels the sacs are compressed as the bowel empties. When this all becomes abnormal is when there is damage to these sacs that cause a small prolapse and thrombosis of the blood vessels.

These are the haemorrhoidal blood vessels hence being called haemorrhoids. During pregnancy your pelvic floor muscles are altered as the weight of the growing uterus pushes down on them. This allows the vessels to become more exposed and allowing more risk for damage.

Symptoms include a burning sensation, intermittent itching, bleeding, leakage of mucous, increased flatus, discomfort and pain.

Treatment options:

  • Starting by having a diet rich in fibre and increasing fluid intake is the start.
  • Taking a fibre supplement or a stool softener is the next option.
  • Medication treatments can include topical creams such as Proctosedal, suppositories, anti-inflammatories and steroids can help.
  • In severe cases surgery needs to be considered.

More often than not haemorrhoids resolve after pregnancy but can be worsened by childbirth in the short-term.

3. Pregnancy Induced Hypertension

NOTE: This is not pre-eclampsia, but a symptom of it. A discussion about pre-eclampsia warrants its own topic as it is a serious pregnancy complication.

Hypertension in pregnancy is one of the highest complications of pregnancy. The demands of the pregnancy on the body increases the workload on the cardiac system.

It is defined as having a blood pressure (BP) higher than 140mmHg systolic and 90mmHg diastolic.

It is unknown what actually causes the hypertension in pregnancy but it’s known that women who have mothers with hypertension in their pregnancy generally carry it through to their daughters.

Treatment options:

  • Often medications are prescribed and there is regular BP monitoring at pregnancy visits.
  • Well-managed hypertension will usually have good pregnancy outcomes.
  • More serious complications to hypertension involves it escalating to pre-eclampsia.

5 Medical Concerns Common in Pregnancy

4. Anaemia

Anaemia is defined as a reduction of haemoglobin (Hb) concentration, a reduction of red blood cells (RBC).

Normal values for Hb differ for every woman. Race, age, exercise level and health all impact Hb levels. The World Health Organisation defines anaemia as a Hb less than 11g/dl.

Not everyone will be symptomatic at this level so it may just be something your doctor will monitor rather than treat.

In pregnancy the most common form of anaemia is iron deficient anaemia. Iron is essential in pregnancy and some women don’t eat enough in their diets or their bodies cannot cope making the extra needed.

Treatment options:

  • Try eating foods rich in iron such as lean meat, cooked liver and dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and silver beet.
  • Also eat fortified cereals and breads, fish (minimise deep sea fish), egg yolks and raisins.
  • Your doctor may also prescribe you an iron supplement, and don’t be alarmed if your faeces becomes black.

Remember that iron is better absorbed when teamed up with vitamin C.  Take a look at this list of foods to avoid and food to eat during pregnancy.

Fact: Women who have previously had a postpartum haemorrhage are at greater risk at being iron deficient in further pregnancies.

5. Gestational Diabetes

Diabetes of all forms is on the increase. Type 2 diabetes due to our obese society and gestational because obese women are falling pregnant.

However, you do not need to be obese to develop gestational diabetes. It is very important to have this condition diagnosed because a baby can develop something called macrosomia.

This is when the baby produces higher than normal insulin, increasing growth hormone due to the woman’s increased blood glucose levels.

This condition is usually diagnosed by routine pathology test that all women have between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. Up to 8% of women will develop this condition.

Risk factors for gestational diabetes can include:

  1. Obesity
  2. Maternal age greater than 30 years
  3. Family history of type 2 diabetes
  4. Previous gestational diabetes
  5. Certain ethnic groups have a higher incidence such as Australian Aboriginal, Torres Straight Islander, Indian and Chinese

Treatment options:

  • Management of gestational diabetes in the first instance is dietary change. Sticking to a diet that is low GI as well as a good mix of meats, legumes, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
  • Women with gestational diabetes are encouraged to have three main meals a day and three snacks a day.
  • Once diagnosed you’ll be referred to a diabetes educator who will discuss daily monitoring.
  • Exercise is also important so try walking 30 to 40 minutes per day.
  • In 15 per cent of cases diet and exercise regimens don’t work and women require insulin.

This is usually just for the pregnancy but a small group of women will develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

It is important for the health of the mother and baby that routine antenatal visits are attended when scheduled.

If you are concerned about anything in your pregnancy then speak to your GP, midwife or obstetrician.

Source: Henderson, C., & Macdonald, S. (Eds.). (2012).  Mayes’
Midwifery: A Textbook for Midwives (14th ed.). Edinburgh:
Bailliere Tindall Publishers.


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