The Most Common Pregnancy Complications—Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Most Common Pregnancy Complications to Watch Out For


Pregnant individuals experience a variety of mild to moderate ailments during pregnancy. Some illnesses are normal—headaches, swelling and fatigue—while others can be alarming. According to Dr. Folch-Hayek, OBGYN at Family Health Centers of San Diego, adequate rest and a proper diet can solve the issue. But when you have done all that you can and the symptoms are still persistent, consultation is essential. It’s better to be safe, especially when the frequency and gravity of these symptoms may lead to a pregnancy complication.

So, what are these common pregnancy complications and what are the warning signs? How can you prevent them or manage these conditions?

What Are the Most Common Complications During Pregnancy?

Several medical conditions during pregnancy typically occur because of the changes that happen inside the body. As the baby grows, the shift in the immune system makes you prone to sickness, some of which go away in a few days, and some pose long-term risks to you and your baby.

Here is a list of the most common pregnancy complications that you need to safeguard yourself against:

Cardiac diseases

Cardiac disease is one of the most common pregnancy complications. As you conceive, your heart and blood vessels become vulnerable as they work harder to support the developing fetus. The process adds stress to your body, especially in the later pregnancy stages, causing fatigue and breathing difficulty. Having a cardiac problem during pregnancy is risky because:

  • It could induce premature labor.
  • Your baby could suffer from a congenital heart defect.
  • Your child could also develop congenital heart disease if you have a heart condition.
  • Sudden attacks may lead to death.

Three things can happen with regard to heart problems: you can develop a type of cardiac disease during pregnancy, the pregnancy can reveal an asymptomatic or undiagnosed heart condition, or the pregnancy may worsen an existing heart disease.

Here’s what takes place when you are pregnant:

  • The blood volume increases by 40% to 50%. This could lead to congestive heart failure without proper care.
  • As the blood volume increases, your heart rate also increases by 15 to 20 beats per minute, resulting in occasional irregular heartbeats. This should be a concern if it happens often and comes with chest pains, rapid heart rate, irregular pulse and even coughing up blood.
  • Blood pressure decreases due to hormonal fluctuation and changes in circulation.
  • The stroke volume increases, which causes edema, enlargement of the cardiac chamber and nocturia (frequent urination at night).

Without proper management or treatment, a more severe condition may arise. To name a few:

Peripartum cardiomyopathy 

Peripartum cardiomyopathy, characterized by a damage in the heart’s walls, could develop during the later stage of pregnancy. The risk is high for pregnant individuals who are 30 years and up, carrying more than one baby, or suffering from preeclampsia.

Pulmonary hypertension 

When the blood pressure in the lungs’ arteries is abnormally high, the patient may suffer from severe or moderate pulmonary hypertension. The symptoms include shortness of breath even with minor movements, fatigue and dizziness.

Congenital heart disease (CHD) 

Pregnant individuals with congenital heart disease have a higher chance of having a premature birth, miscarriage and stillbirth. The offspring is also likely to develop CHD. While people with CHD can go through their pregnancy without issues, some of them are discouraged from conceiving due to the high risks.

Pulmonary edema 

Pulmonary edema, an accumulation of fluid in the lungs, usually develops during and after pregnancy. Those who have an existing cardiac disease, preeclampsia, and use tocolytic agents (labor suppressants) are at high risk of developing the illness.


Obesity, age, a preexisting autoimmune disease, diabetes and lack of physical activity, among others, can lead to hypertension during pregnancy. First-time pregnancy, as well as carrying more than one child, is also a factor. There are three types of hypertension: chronic, gestational and chronic hypertension with preeclampsia.

Chronic hypertension 

CONDITION: Chronic hypertension is often a preexisting condition. It can also develop during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) defines it as having a blood pressure equal to or greater than 140 systolic and 90 diastolic. Chronic hypertension puts the pregnant individual and the offspring at risk of preeclampsia, low birth weight, placental abruption and premature labor.

TREATMENT OPTIONS: Doctors recommend preparing for the pregnancy if you have hypertension or history of the disease. Effective weight management also helps in controlling blood pressure. Consuming less processed foods shows a positive effect on the individual’s blood pressure.

If medication is necessary, beta-blockers, methyldopa, labetalol and other antihypertensive medicines are commonly used to alleviate the symptoms.

Gestational hypertension

CONDITION: Gestational hypertension is pregnancy-induced and usually develops in the fifth month or 20th week of pregnancy. Within 12 weeks after delivery, the condition goes away on its own, although it increases the risk of developing hypertension in the future. Severe cases of gestational hypertension may lead to preeclampsia. The symptoms include:

  • Frequent headache
  • Nausea
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Dizziness

TREATMENT OPTIONS: Strict adherence to a dietary plan is one effective way to manage gestational hypertension. Discipline is also important in following the doctor’s instructions with regard to lifestyle and weight maintenance. Doing the following will greatly help:

  • Avoiding salty foods
  • Performing minor workout routines
  • Eating healthy (green leafy vegetables, fibers and foods rich in potassium)
  • Regular checkup with a prenatal care provider
  • Strictly following the doctor’s guidelines on medication

Hemorrhage or subchorionic hematoma

Bleeding, spotting, hemorrhage or subchorionic hematoma during pregnancy is common. However, it is also a cause for worry especially when it becomes heavy or it happens in more than one occasion. Spotting is light bleeding, with a few drops of blood visible. Bleeding, on the other hand, is heavier and calls for an emergency checkup. There are serious and normal types of bleeding that happen while pregnant and a variety of factors can trigger it including:

  • Placental abruption
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Cervical infections
  • Placenta previa
  • Uterine rupture
  • Preterm labor
  • Miscarriage/threatened abortion

In cases of hemorrhage, whether light or heavy, it is much better to consult a prenatal specialist. This will avert a tragic incident and stop any panic.


Pregnancy exposes your body to a variety of infections inside and out. A wide variety of bacteria that your body was able to fight and survive before pregnancy can become more powerful than your immune system and cause harm to you and your unborn child. Among the most common infections your pregnant body is prone to include:

  • Yeast infection—caused by increased estrogen level. Occurring during the first few weeks of pregnancy, yeast infection is associated with an unpleasant odor, itching and burning sensation.
  • Bacterial vaginosis—the imbalance of lactobacilli and anaerobes in the vaginal area. Usually, the anaerobes are higher, causing an infection.
  • Hepatitis virus (A, B, C)—liver-damaging viruses that pose serious risks to a pregnant individual and the unborn child. Hepatitis A (HAV) comes from eating food that had contact with an infected person. Hepatitis B (HBV) can be contracted through an infected person’s body fluids, including blood. It can be passed on to the child, especially if the disease occurred during the second or third trimester. Hepatitis C (HCV) infects a person through blood, commonly when an individual comes in contact with a needle used by a person carrying the virus.
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)—an infection found in the kidneys, bladder, ureters and urethra. The disease is bacterial with the following signs: trouble urinating, cramps and burning sensation in the lower back, and cloudy, odorous and/or bloody urine. The symptoms include fever, vomiting, persistent back pain and nausea.
  • Toxoplasmosis—an infection that is usually harmless and treatable. They rarely cause danger to both the parent and the unborn child. However, there is still a slim chance for first-time parents to experience complications such as birth defects, miscarriage or stillbirth.

These infections can come from unsterilized utensils and unpasteurized foods and beverages. Prevention is better than cure. One of the most effective ways to ward off infection is to maintain cleanliness at all times.

Preeclampsia and eclampsia

People with hypertension are also in serious danger of experiencing preeclampsia or superimposed preeclampsia during pregnancy. Preeclampsia (toxemia) comes with high blood pressure and organ damage, particularly the liver and kidneys. At this point, swelling of the hands, feet and legs (edema) occurs. Other symptoms include:

  • Reduced urination
  • Severe headache, nausea and vomiting
  • Blurry vision and oversensitivity to light
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Burning feeling behind the sternum
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight gain

Preeclampsia is a medical condition with complicated pregnancy symptoms. In some cases, preeclampsia goes without symptoms, and pregnancy proceeds without major issues. Grave cases, on the other hand, lead to eclampsia with seizures and even death.

Preeclampsia and eclampsia are unique to pregnant individuals, so doctors monitor the patient’s blood pressure regularly and watch out for signs.

How to Avoid Complications During Pregnancy? Dr. Folch-Hayek OBGYN Has Some Advice

There are a lot of other complications pregnant individuals should be aware of. Dr. Folch-Hayek, OBGYN reiterates that about 50.6% of maternal deaths are in the post-partum period, and most of them happen after 48 hours of delivery. It is important to always be on guard when you get pregnant, as negligence could lead to unpleasant and risky outcomes. But once the symptoms manifest, panic won’t help.

Dr. Folch-Hayek has some advice for those seeking answers and a proper treatment approach:

See answers from evidence-based resources

It is fine to look up answers on the web or pregnancy-related books, but remember to look for evidence-based resources. Speculating based on unverified information will not help you make sound judgments and decisions. And keep in mind that gathering information should not lead to self-diagnosis and self-medication.

Engage in group meetings

Connecting with other pregnant individuals has more benefits than you think. Group counseling offers you a comfortable environment where you can share your physical, emotional and other concerns. As other pregnant individuals share their experiences, you learn a lot of things. It feels reassuring to know that others feel the same as you do and that they are perfectly normal.

Family Health Centers of San Diego partnered with March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization that supports pregnant individuals and babies’ welfare, to initiate a prenatal care group. The goal is to allow pregnant individuals to share and learn together.

Social groups provide a learning space for parents and a break away from the monotony of pregnant life.

Always consult your primary care provider

If you have any medical concerns, consult your prenatal care provider and ask questions. Dr. Folch-Hayek advises, “I encourage patients to ask more questions. That way, it is easier for me to reassure someone than miss something important and not be able to go back and figure out where it started.”

You may think that doctors are only telling you what you want to hear to get rid of you. Still, doctors like Dr. Folch-Hayek underwent years of rigorous training and residency to understand pregnancy as a whole—the physiological processes, patterns, behaviors and complications. And when something is out of the norm, they perform exhaustive tests to ensure a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery.

Take Care of Yourself and Your Baby Through A Guided Pregnancy

Aside from these common pregnancy complications, there are still other severe medical conditions during pregnancy that you should be aware of to take the necessary steps in preventing them. What may look normal on the surface could be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition. Every symptom is worth visiting a prenatal care provider with in-depth knowledge of the condition.

Seeking help from an OBGYN can help you go through pregnancy with confidence. You will feel safer under the care of a specialist who can diagnose and determine your condition accurately. Knowing the exact status of your pregnancy reassures you or helps you undergo treatments right away if necessary. If you want to prevent the most common pregnancy complications from occurring, consult a prenatal care provider even before you get pregnant.

Family Health Centers of San Diego’s OBGYNs are ready to offer you the best prenatal care possible. Aside from monitoring and diagnosis, FHCSD’s prenatal care specialists and physicians also provide counseling to help you understand the issues and cope with the challenges of being pregnant.

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For more information, or to find out how we can help, contact our staff at (619) 515-2428 or fill out the form below.