Dangerous Health Conditions That Can Develop During Pregnancy

It all began with your decision to bring life into this world. You’ve followed your doctor’s advice, and now, you’re expecting. You may think it’s going to be smooth sailing now if you experienced trouble planting the seed in the first place, but a handful of new issues may be on the horizon. Don’t worry: We’re here to arm you with a little bit of knowledge by shedding some light on five health conditions that can develop during pregnancy. If you go into things knowing what you can expect, you’ll be able to act fast should something go awry.

1. Preeclampsia

elements of blood pressure

Preeclampsia occurs when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure. | iStock.com

Preeclampsia, which can occur during pregnancy and up to six weeks after giving birth, is characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Signs to look out for include swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches, and changes in vision. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, this condition is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death globally. While it can be managed, proper treatment is imperative. This means regularly getting your blood pressure checked during pregnancy is a must.

2. HELLP syndrome

Happy couple with a child

HELLP can be a life-threatening complication. | iStock.com

Often considered a variant of preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome deserves its own specification, as it can be a life-threatening complication during pregnancy. The dangers of the disease are in its name: H (hemolysis, or the breaking down of red blood cells), EL (elevated liver enzymes), and LP (low platelet count). Because signs aren’t always present, diagnosis can be difficult. But don’t be fooled. Even though its symptoms may lie dormant, HELLP syndrome is a serious problem. The Preeclampsia Foundation reports a global mortality rate of 25%. Pregnant women who begin to have headaches, nausea, and changes in vision will want to get their blood pressure and urine checked out.

3. Gestational diabetes

Pregnant woman holding belly

Gestational diabetes is a serious concern. | iStock.com/tamaravidmar

Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman has high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. This does not mean she had diabetes prior to becoming pregnant, though, or that she’ll have diabetes after she has the baby. Gestational diabetes is a result of insulin resistance, which occurs when the hormones from a mother’s placenta are blocking the normal role insulin plays in the body.

Furthermore, gestational diabetes typically doesn’t develop until the late stages of pregnancy, which is good news for the baby. Because the infant’s body has already been formed, the baby is not at risk for birth defects. However, if gestational diabetes goes untreated or is poorly controlled, the American Diabetes Association says the baby could be in harm’s way, so it’s important to manage the condition as soon as it’s diagnosed.

4. Placenta previa

Father Putting his Baby in a Car Seat

This condition can cause bleeding. | iStock.com

The placenta is what nourishes an unborn baby, so it’s safe to say a condition that compromises it is a cause for concern. In women with placenta previa, the placenta lies low in the uterus, partially or completely covering the cervix. And during labor, the placenta may separate from the uterine wall. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the most common symptom is painless bleeding during the third trimester, affecting one in 200 women at this stage. A doctor will typically recommend bed rest after placenta previa is diagnosed. However, if the bleeding cannot be controlled, an immediate C-section is often performed.

5. Preterm labor

newborn baby girl looking with big beautiful hazel brown eyes

Luckily, premature babies often lead normal, healthy lives. | iStock.com/Bodler

Preterm labor can result from a number of factors, including advanced maternal age, stress during pregnancy, and tobacco use. According to What To Expect, preterm labor occurs after week 20 of pregnancy and before week 37. Of course, every baby needs proper time to develop and grow, and being premature doesn’t come without its risks. Babies who come early will almost always need to be placed in the neonatal intensive care unit for at least some amount of time. And while cerebral palsy, slow growth, and developmental delays have been seen, modern medicine makes the chances of a premature baby going home healthy very high.

While pregnancy can totally throw your body out of whack, you still have to recognize what’s normal and what’s not. And no matter how healthy you may be, discussing any health concerns with your doctor is imperative. You truly are better off safe than sorry.