Common Warning Signs to Be Aware of in Pregnancy

Pregnant Woman Getting Ultrasound

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Most women will have normal pregnancies with no complications whatsoever. It is important, however, to learn the warning signs of a potential problem.

Your doctor or midwife should alert you to issues that may be specific to your situation, but the general warning signs apply to every pregnancy.

Your healthcare provider will routinely screen for potential problems during your prenatal care visits. Blood and urine tests, ultrasounds, and other screening tests will help your doctor monitor your pregnancy and decide if you are in a higher risk category for any specific issues.

Dangerous Symptoms to Watch For

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it is important to call your practitioner immediately. They can advise you as to what further steps may be necessary and rule out more serious complications such as preterm labor.

While it's important not to panic, keep in mind that delaying care can make the situation more serious than if your doctor had been alerted at the first sign of symptoms.

The following signs and their possible causes are from the Council on Patient Safety in Women's Health Care.

15 Danger Signs in Pregnancy
Symptom Potential Problem Other possible causes
Changes in vision Preeclampsia Hormonal changes, fluid retention
Difficulty breathing Asthma, infection, heart failure, pulmonary embolism Movement of the diaphragm due to the growing uterus, hormonal changes
Exhaustion Anemia, diabetes, depression, insomnia Lack of sleep, stress, doing to much
Extreme swelling of the hands and face Preeclampsia Swelling
Fainting or lightheadedness Preeclampsia, bleeding Lack of sleep, not eating, getting up too quickly
Fever Infection Cold or flu
Gush of fluid from vagina Preterm labor, preterm rupture of membranes, miscarriage, placental abruption Leaky bladder, watery mucous
No fetal movement Fetal distress, infection, low amniotic fluid volume Slowed movements, anterior placenta
Overwhelming worries, fears, or harmful thoughts Depression, postpartum depression Stress, anxiety, not sleeping well
Pelvic or abdominal pain Placental abruption, preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome Cyst, uterine growth, round ligament pain, "lightening crotch"
Persistent back pain Miscarriage, preterm labor Kidney/bladder infection, cyst, normal pregnancy pain
Regular contractions before 37 weeks Preterm labor Gastric upset
Severe headaches, blurred vision Preeclampsia, eclampsia Routine headaches, hormonal changes, stress
Swelling, tenderness or redness in the legs Blood clots Swelling from fluid retention
Vaginal bleeding Miscarriage, placental abruption, placenta previa Hormonal bleeding, implantation bleeding

Remember that while there may be other causes for your symptoms, you should not neglect to get professional advice. There can be subtle differences between minor problems and major complications in pregnancy.

When you call your practitioner, be sure to give them enough information to help them determine when and where to see you. Sometimes it can wait until your next appointment.

In other cases, your doctor may want to see you in their office on the same day, ask you to go to the emergency room, or head to labor and delivery, depending on how far along you are and what symptoms you are experiencing.

Don't let worries about bothering your doctor or midwife keep you from calling about any symptoms you feel unsure of. Your provider and their staff are used to answering questions from pregnant patients every day. After all, their entire focus is ensuring a healthy pregnancy for you and your baby.

During your prenatal visits, your provider will conduct screenings to see that your basic health markers—and those of your baby—are within normal limits. They will also help you figure out what you might be more at risk for based on your health history and your lifestyle.

In addition, your doctor or midwife can provide you with advice on helping to lower any pregnancy risks with diet, exercise, and other measures.

It's a better choice to call about a symptom you're unsure of rather than allowing it to continue. The adage "better safe than sorry" definitely rings true here. Even if your symptom is completely normal, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have nothing to worry about after discussing it with your doctor.

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2 Sources
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  1. March of Dimes. Signs of preterm labor.

  2. Council on Patient Safety in Women's Health Care. Urgent maternal warning signs.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.