7 health conditions that can affect your pregnancy

Caleb Ihuarulam

Caleb Ihuarulam

Several factors affect the normal functioning of the human body during pregnancy. Lifestyle, mother’s age, hormonal changes, and pre-existing health conditions can make a pregnancy high-risk. Certain medical conditions affect the health of the mother, the fetus, or both. Even women who were healthy before getting pregnant may experience these complications.

This article highlights seven common health conditions that can impact pregnancy and how to manage them. 

Diabetes  

Diabetes affects how the body regulates blood sugar levels. It may manifest in two different ways affecting pregnancy: 

  • Before pregnancy – type 1 or 2 diabetes 
  • During pregnancy – gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) 

Placental hormones affect the body’s ability to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar. As the placenta enlarges, insulin resistance is much more noticeable. GDM can lead to severe complications in pregnancy: 

  • Pre-eclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure)  
  • Stillbirth/miscarriage 
  • Premature birth 
  • Low calcium and elevated bilirubin levels (hyperbilirubinemia), which can cause neonatal jaundice  
  • Macrosomia  
  • Hypoglycemia and seizures in newborns. 
  • Major congenital anomalies  
  • Shoulder dystocia 

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after child birth. However, women with gestational diabetes can Type 2 diabetes later in life. Prenatal visits are essential for monitoring fetal growth and blood sugar levels. Extra tips for managing GDM include prioritising physical activity and a healthy diet. Your doctor may prescribe insulin therapy and oral medications where necessary. 

High Blood Pressure 

In hypertension, also called high blood pressure, arteries carrying blood from the heart to the body organs become narrow. As a result, the force or pressure with which blood flows increases. In pregnancy, this restricts blood flow to the placenta. Hypertension can occur in pregnancy in two ways:  

  • Chronic hypertension – pre-existing  
  • Gestational hypertension – develops during pregnancy. It usually occurs after 20 weeks gestation as eclampsia and pre-eclampsia. 

Gestational hypertension may go away after delivery, but it has dangerous effects on both the mother and the baby. Reduced blood flow to the placenta causes several complications: 

  • Intrauterine growth restriction of the foetus 
  • Preterm labour and delivery  
  • Low birth weight 
  • Stillbirth/miscarriage 
  • Stroke 
  • Placental abruption  
  • Pre-eclampsia (with proteinuria, acute kidney injury, and other forms of maternal organ damage).  

To manage blood pressure during pregnancy, your doctor would monitor you closely. Tests such as ultrasound scans and kidney function tests aid early detection. They also help to control blood pressure levels.   

Anaemia 

Anaemia is a health condition in which the number of red blood cells or the haemoglobin concentration within them is lower than usual. It is prevalent in pregnant women. Pregnant women need more iron to support the amount of blood produced during pregnancy. Iron deficiency is one of the leading causes of anaemia in infants, amongst complications including:  

  • Preterm birth  
  • Low birth weight  
  • Development issues  
  • Fetal death 

Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency include: 

  • Feeling tired or faint 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Pale skin  

Prenatal vitamins and fruits are rich in iron and folate, which boost red blood cell production. They are a must-have in your pregnancy diet. Your healthcare provider may run blood tests for early detection.  

Obesity  

A pregnant woman is obese when her BMI is 30 or higher. A high body mass index (BMI) during pregnancy affects your and your baby’s health. Obesity in pregnancy increases the risk for both maternal and fetal complications. Some of the maternal complications include:  

  • Gestational hypertension leading to pre-eclampsia 
  • Decrease in insulin sensitivity, which leads to gestational diabetes mellitus 
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth 
  • Venous thromboembolism (VTE) 
  • Sleep apnea. 
  • Preterm birth  

Here are some of the fetal complications:  

  • Early placental and fetal dysfunction 
  • Macrosomia (a condition where a newborn has a birth weight of more than 4 kilograms) can cause shoulder dystocia, brachial plexus injuries, etc. 
  • Congenital anomalies like spina bifida, omphalocele, and cardiac defects 
  • Increased occurrence of metabolic syndrome and obesity 

Women who struggled with their weight were more likely than women with a BMI less than 26 to have more prolonged labour and fetal distress. Often, they also have an increased risk of operative vaginal and cesarean delivery. Your endocrinologist and dietician would develop a personalised plan. Exercise would also improve your health and help you have a healthier pregnancy.  

Infectious Diseases 

Women are already more susceptible to infectious diseases than men. Due to the development of the baby, the chances of pregnant women contracting infectious diseases increase. Some of these infections can cause harm to both the mother and baby. Some of the common infectious diseases include: 

Bacterial infections: 

  • Bacterial vaginosis, which can lead to genital chlamydial infection 
  • Listeria or listeriosis  
  • Group B streptococcus (GBS)  
  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)


Viral infections:  

  • Influenza (flu) 
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) which leads to congenital CMV infection.  
  • Rubella leading to congenital rubella 
  • Hepatitis B leading to neonatal hepatitis B 
  • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) causing neonatal herpes simplex virus infection 
  • Varicella-zoster virus  
  • Parvovirus B19 

Diseases transmitted by animals: 

  • Toxoplasmosis, which can lead to congenital toxoplasmosis 

Routine screening during prenatal visits helps to detect potential infections. Certain infections may require treatment via the use of medications. Vaccinations and good hygiene prevent the spread of these infections.  Doctors should have the final says about what measures should be adopted. 

Mental Health Conditions  

Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can affect the health of both the mother and her baby.  

Anxiety disorders can occur before, during, and after pregnancy. Anxiety disorders usually manifest alongside depression. Depression also affects maternal health during and after pregnancy (antenatal and postpartum depression). Most symptoms of anxiety and depression are interrelated. They include: 

  • Intense feelings of sadness, fear, worry, and panic 
  • Feelings of guilt or hopelessness 
  • Fatigue 
  • Insomnia  
  • Overeating or loss of appetite. 
  • Problems concentrating, recalling details,  
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. 

These feelings are uncontrollable and can be prolonged, disrupting daily activities. They can also put women at increased risk of postpartum depression. Expecting mothers should prioritise their mental health in this unique phase. Speak to your doctor as soon as possible.  

Thyroid Disorders  

The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating metabolism and hormone production. Pregnancy impacts thyroid function, affecting the amount of thyroid hormone secreted. These disorders include: 

  • Hyperthyroidism – over-secretion of the thyroid hormone  
  • Hypothyroidism – under-secretion of the thyroid hormone  

These disorders cause several complications in fetal and maternal health. The most common causes of maternal hypothyroidism are Hashimoto thyroiditis and Graves disease. Untreated hypothyroidism can cause: 

  • Low birth weight 
  • Fetal distress 
  • Miscarriage 
  • Infantile myxedema leads to impaired neuropsychological development like dwarfism and intellectual disabilities. 
  • Anaemia 
  • Gestational hypertension 
  • Placental abruption 
  • Postpartum haemorrhage (PPH) 
  • Myxedema leads to a coma and death in severe cases. 
  • Heart failure 

 Untreated hyperthyroidism can result in: 

  • Fetal growth restriction 
  • Pre-eclampsia 
  • Stillbirth. 

Managing thyroid conditions may include monitoring thyroid levels and adjusting medication dosages. Women with pre-existing thyroid disorders need to consult their doctors.  

Conclusion 

Early detection and medical care help women navigate high-risk complications. Prioritising maternal health boosts proper fetal development. With appropriate medical care, women can enjoy a healthy pregnancy despite medical challenges.  

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Caleb Ihuarulam

Caleb Ihuarulam

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