Complications of pregnancy

Complications of pregnancy are health problems that are related to pregnancy. Complications that occur primarily during childbirth are termed obstetric labor complications, and problems that occur primarily after childbirth are termed puerperal disorders. Severe complications of pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium are present in 1.6% of mothers in the US,[1] and in 1.5% of mothers in Canada.[2] In the immediate postpartum period (puerperium), 87% to 94% of women report at least one health problem.[3][4] Long-term health problems (persisting after six months postpartum) are reported by 31% of women.[5]

Complications of pregnancy

In 2016, complications of pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium resulted globally in 230,600 deaths, down from 377,000 deaths in 1990. The most common causes of maternal mortality are maternal bleeding, postpartum infections including maternal sepsis, hypertensive diseases of pregnancy, obstructed labor, and pregnancy with abortive outcome, which includes miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and elective abortion.[6]

There is no clear distinction between complications of pregnancy and symptoms and discomforts of pregnancy. However, the latter do not significantly interfere with activities of daily living or pose any significant threat to the health of the mother or baby. Still, in some cases, the same basic feature can manifest as either a discomfort or a complication depending on the severity. For example, mild nausea may merely be a discomfort (morning sickness), but if severe and with vomiting causing water-electrolyte imbalance it can be classified as a pregnancy complication (hyperemesis gravidarum).

Maternal problemsEdit

The following problems originate mainly in the mother.

Gestational diabetesEdit

Gestational diabetes is when a woman without diabetes develops high blood sugar levels during pregnancy.[7]

Hyperemesis gravidarumEdit

Hyperemesis gravidarum is the presence of severe and persistent vomiting, causing dehydration and weight loss. It is more severe than the more common morning sickness and is estimated to affect 0.5–2.0% of pregnant women.[8][9]

Pelvic girdle painEdit

  • Caused by: Pelvic girdle pain (PGP) disorder is pain caused by instability and limitation of mobility and functioning in any of the three pelvic joints. PGP can begin peri or postpartum. For most pregnant individuals, PGP resolves in the weeks after delivery, but for some it can last for years, resulting in a reduced tolerance for weight bearing activities. PGP affects around 45% of individuals during pregnancy: 25% report serious pain and 8% are severely disabled.[10]
  • Treatment: The treatment modality is based on the severity. A mild case would require rest, rehabilitation therapy and pain is usually manageable. More severe cases would also include mobility aids, strong analgesics and sometimes surgery. One of the main factors in helping women cope is with education, information and support. Many treatment options are available.

High blood pressureEdit

Potential severe hypertensive states of pregnancy are mainly:

Venous thromboembolismEdit

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a form of venous thromboembolism (VTE), has an incidence of 0.5 to 7 per 1,000 pregnancies, and is the second most common cause of maternal death in developed countries after bleeding.[16]

Absolute and relative incidence of venous thromboembolism (VTE) during pregnancy and the postpartum period
Absolute incidence of first VTE per 10,000 person–years during pregnancy and the postpartum period
Swedish data A Swedish data B English data Danish data
Time period N Rate (95% CI) N Rate (95% CI) N Rate (95% CI) N Rate (95% CI)
Outside pregnancy 1105 4.2 (4.0–4.4) 1015 3.8 (?) 1480 3.2 (3.0–3.3) 2895 3.6 (3.4–3.7)
Antepartum 995 20.5 (19.2–21.8) 690 14.2 (13.2–15.3) 156 9.9 (8.5–11.6) 491 10.7 (9.7–11.6)
  Trimester 1 207 13.6 (11.8–15.5) 172 11.3 (9.7–13.1) 23 4.6 (3.1–7.0) 61 4.1 (3.2–5.2)
  Trimester 2 275 17.4 (15.4–19.6) 178 11.2 (9.7–13.0) 30 5.8 (4.1–8.3) 75 5.7 (4.6–7.2)
  Trimester 3 513 29.2 (26.8–31.9) 340 19.4 (17.4–21.6) 103 18.2 (15.0–22.1) 355 19.7 (17.7–21.9)
Around delivery 115 154.6 (128.8–185.6) 79 106.1 (85.1–132.3) 34 142.8 (102.0–199.8)
Postpartum 649 42.3 (39.2–45.7) 509 33.1 (30.4–36.1) 135 27.4 (23.1–32.4) 218 17.5 (15.3–20.0)
  Early postpartum 584 75.4 (69.6–81.8) 460 59.3 (54.1–65.0) 177 46.8 (39.1–56.1) 199 30.4 (26.4–35.0)
  Late postpartum 65 8.5 (7.0–10.9) 49 6.4 (4.9–8.5) 18 7.3 (4.6–11.6) 319 3.2 (1.9–5.0)
Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) of first VTE during pregnancy and the postpartum period
Swedish data A Swedish data B English data Danish data
Time period IRR* (95% CI) IRR* (95% CI) IRR (95% CI)† IRR (95% CI)†
Outside pregnancy
Reference (i.e., 1.00)
Antepartum 5.08 (4.66–5.54) 3.80 (3.44–4.19) 3.10 (2.63–3.66) 2.95 (2.68–3.25)
  Trimester 1 3.42 (2.95–3.98) 3.04 (2.58–3.56) 1.46 (0.96–2.20) 1.12 (0.86–1.45)
  Trimester 2 4.31 (3.78–4.93) 3.01 (2.56–3.53) 1.82 (1.27–2.62) 1.58 (1.24–1.99)
  Trimester 3 7.14 (6.43–7.94) 5.12 (4.53–5.80) 5.69 (4.66–6.95) 5.48 (4.89–6.12)
Around delivery 37.5 (30.9–44.45) 27.97 (22.24–35.17) 44.5 (31.68–62.54)
Postpartum 10.21 (9.27–11.25) 8.72 (7.83–9.70) 8.54 (7.16–10.19) 4.85 (4.21–5.57)
  Early postpartum 19.27 (16.53–20.21) 15.62 (14.00–17.45) 14.61 (12.10–17.67) 8.44 (7.27–9.75)
  Late postpartum 2.06 (1.60–2.64) 1.69 (1.26–2.25) 2.29 (1.44–3.65) 0.89 (0.53–1.39)
Notes: Swedish data A = Using any code for VTE regardless of confirmation. Swedish data B = Using only algorithm-confirmed VTE. Early postpartum = First 6 weeks after delivery. Late postpartum = More than 6 weeks after delivery. * = Adjusted for age and calendar year. † = Unadjusted ratio calculated based on the data provided. Source: [17]


Levels of hemoglobin are lower in the third trimesters. According to the United Nations (UN) estimates, approximately half of pregnant individuals suffer from anemia worldwide. Anemia prevalences during pregnancy differed from 18% in developed countries to 75% in South Asia.[18]

Treatment varies due to the severity of the anaemia, and can be used by increasing iron containing foods, oral iron tablets or by the use of parenteral iron.[7]


A pregnant woman is more susceptible to certain infections. This increased risk is caused by an increased immune tolerance in pregnancy to prevent an immune reaction against the fetus, as well as secondary to maternal physiological changes including a decrease in respiratory volumes and urinary stasis due to an enlarging uterus.[19] Pregnant individuals are more severely affected by, for example, influenza, hepatitis E, herpes simplex and malaria.[19] The evidence is more limited for coccidioidomycosis, measles, smallpox, and varicella.[19] Mastitis, or inflammation of the breast occurs in 20% of lactating individuals.[20]

Some infections are vertically transmissible, meaning that they can affect the child as well.

Peripartum cardiomyopathyEdit

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is decrease in heart function which occurs in the last month of pregnancy, or up to six months post-pregnancy. It increases the risk of congestive heart failure, heart arrhythmias, thromboembolism, and cardiac arrest.[21]


Hypothyroidism (also called Hashimoto's disease) is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid in pregnant individuals. This condition can have a profound effect during pregnancy and on the child. The infant may be seriously affected and have a variety of birth defects. Many pregnant individuals with Hashimoto's disease develop an underactive thyroid. The clinician will do an exam and order one or more tests.[22][23][24]

Fetal and placental problemsEdit

The following problems occur in the fetus or placenta, but may have serious consequences on the mother as well.

Ectopic pregnancyEdit

Ectopic pregnancy is implantation of the embryo outside the uterus

  • Caused by: Unknown, but risk factors include smoking, advanced maternal age, and prior surgery or trauma to the fallopian tubes.
  • Treatment: In most cases, keyhole surgery must be carried out to remove the fetus, along with the fallopian tube. If the pregnancy is very early, it may resolve on its own, or it can be treated with methotrexate, an abortifacient.[25]


Miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks.[26] In the UK, miscarriage is defined as the loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks.[27]

Placental abruptionEdit

Placental abruption is the separation of the placenta from the uterus.[7]

  • Caused by: Various causes; risk factors include maternal hypertension, trauma, and drug use.
  • Treatment: Immediate delivery if the fetus is mature (36 weeks or older), or if a younger fetus or the mother is in distress. In less severe cases with immature fetuses, the situation may be monitored in hospital, with treatment if necessary.

Placenta praeviaEdit

Placenta praevia is when the placenta fully or partially covers the cervix.[7]

Placenta accretaEdit

Placenta accreta is an abnormal adherence of the placenta to the uterine wall.[28]

Multiple pregnanciesEdit

Multiples may become monochorionic, sharing the same chorion, with resultant risk of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. Monochorionic multiples may even become monoamniotic, sharing the same amniotic sac, resulting in risk of umbilical cord compression and entanglement. In very rare cases, there may be conjoined twins, possibly impairing function of internal organs.

Vertically transmitted infectionEdit

The embryo and fetus have little or no immune function. They depend on the immune function of their mother. Several pathogens can cross the placenta and cause (perinatal) infection. Often microorganisms that produce minor illness in the mother are very dangerous for the developing embryo or fetus. This can result in spontaneous abortion or major developmental disorders. For many infections, the baby is more at risk at particular stages of pregnancy. Problems related to perinatal infection are not always directly noticeable.

The term TORCH complex refers to a set of several different infections that may be caused by transplacental infection.

Babies can also become infected by their mother during birth. During birth, babies are exposed to maternal blood and body fluids without the placental barrier intervening and to the maternal genital tract. Because of this, blood-borne microorganisms (hepatitis B, HIV), organisms associated with sexually transmitted disease (e.g., gonorrhoea and chlamydia), and normal fauna of the genito-urinary tract (e.g., Candida) are among those commonly seen in infection of newborns.

Intrauterine bleedingEdit

There have been rare but known cases of intrauterine bleeding caused by injury inflicted by the fetus with its fingernails or toenails.[29]

General risk factorsEdit

Factors increasing the risk (to either the pregnant individual, the fetus/es, or both) of pregnancy complications beyond the normal level of risk may be present in the pregnant individual's medical profile either before they become pregnant or during the pregnancy.[30] These pre-existing factors may related to the individual's genetics, physical or mental health, their environment and social issues, or a combination of those.[31]


Some common biological risk factors include:


810 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, 94% occur in low and lower middle-income countries.

Some common environmental risk factors include:

High-risk pregnancyEdit

Some disorders and conditions can mean that pregnancy is considered high-risk (about 6-8% of pregnancies in the USA) and in extreme cases may be contraindicated. High-risk pregnancies are the main focus of doctors specialising in maternal-fetal medicine.

Serious pre-existing disorders which can reduce a woman's physical ability to survive pregnancy include a range of congenital defects (that is, conditions with which the woman herself was born, for example, those of the heart or reproductive organs, some of which are listed above) and diseases acquired at any time during the woman's life.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Severe Maternal Morbidity in the United States". CDC. Archived from the original on 2015-06-29. Retrieved 2015-07-08.
  2. ^ "Severe Maternal Morbidity in Canda" (PDF). The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-09. Retrieved 2015-07-08.
  3. ^ Glazener CM, Abdalla M, Stroud P, Naji S, Templeton A, Russell IT (April 1995). "Postnatal maternal morbidity: extent, causes, prevention and treatment". British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 102 (4): 282–87. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.1995.tb09132.x. PMID 7612509. S2CID 38872754.
  4. ^ Thompson JF, Roberts CL, Currie M, Ellwood DA (June 2002). "Prevalence and persistence of health problems after childbirth: associations with parity and method of birth". Birth (Berkeley, Calif.). 29 (2): 83–94. doi:10.1046/j.1523-536X.2002.00167.x. PMID 12051189.
  5. ^ Borders N (2006). "After the afterbirth: a critical review of postpartum health relative to method of delivery". Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health. 51 (4): 242–48. doi:10.1016/j.jmwh.2005.10.014. PMID 16814217.
  6. ^ GBD 2016 Causes of Death Collaborators (September 2017). "Global, regional, and national age-sex specific mortality for 264 causes of death, 1980–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016". Lancet. 390 (10100): 1151–1210. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32152-9. PMC 5605883. PMID 28919116.
  7. ^ a b c d "Pregnancy complications". 2016-12-14. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
  8. ^ Summers A (July 2012). "Emergency management of hyperemesis gravidarum". Emergency Nurse. 20 (4): 24–28. doi:10.7748/en2012. PMID 22876404.
  9. ^ Goodwin TM (September 2008). "Hyperemesis gravidarum". Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. 35 (3): viii, 401–17. doi:10.1016/j.ogc.2008.04.002. PMID 18760227.
  10. ^ Pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain (PPP), I: Terminology, clinical presentation, and prevalence European Spine Journal Vol 13, No. 7 / Nov. 2004 W. H. Wu, O. G. Meijer, K. Uegaki, J. M. A. Mens, J. H. van Dieën, P. I. J. M. Wuisman, H. C. Östgaard.
  11. ^ Villar J, Say L, Gulmezoglu AM, Meraldi M, Lindheimer MD, Betran AP, Piaggio G; Eclampsia and pre-eclampsia: a health problem for 2000 years. In Pre-eclampsia, Critchly H, MacLean A, Poston L, Walker J, eds. London, RCOG Press, 2003, pp. 189–207.
  12. ^ Abalos E, Cuesta C, Grosso AL, Chou D, Say L (September 2013). "Global and regional estimates of preeclampsia and eclampsia: a systematic review". European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology. 170 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2013.05.005. PMID 23746796.
  13. ^ Haram K, Svendsen E, Abildgaard U (February 2009). "The HELLP syndrome: clinical issues and management. A Review". BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 9: 8. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-9-8. PMC 2654858. PMID 19245695. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-11-12.
  14. ^ Mjahed K, Charra B, Hamoudi D, Noun M, Barrou L (October 2006). "Acute fatty liver of pregnancy". Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 274 (6): 349–53. doi:10.1007/s00404-006-0203-6. PMID 16868757. S2CID 24784165.
  15. ^ Reyes H, Sandoval L, Wainstein A, Ribalta J, Donoso S, Smok G, Rosenberg H, Meneses M (January 1994). "Acute fatty liver of pregnancy: a clinical study of 12 episodes in 11 patients". Gut. 35 (1): 101–06. doi:10.1136/gut.35.1.101. PMC 1374642. PMID 8307428.
  16. ^ a b Venös tromboembolism (VTE) – Guidelines for treatment in C counties. Bengt Wahlström, Emergency department, Uppsala Academic Hospital. January 2008
  17. ^ Abdul Sultan A, West J, Stephansson O, Grainge MJ, Tata LJ, Fleming KM, Humes D, Ludvigsson JF (November 2015). "Defining venous thromboembolism and measuring its incidence using Swedish health registries: a nationwide pregnancy cohort study". BMJ Open. 5 (11): e008864. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008864. PMC 4654387. PMID 26560059.
  18. ^ Wang S, An L, Cochran SD (2002). "Women". In Detels R, McEwen J, Beaglehole R, Tanaka H (eds.). Oxford textbook of public health (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 1587–601.
  19. ^ a b c Kourtis AP, Read JS, Jamieson DJ (June 2014). "Pregnancy and infection". The New England Journal of Medicine. 370 (23): 2211–18. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1213566. PMC 4459512. PMID 24897084.
  20. ^ Kaufmann R, Foxman B (1991). "Mastitis among lactating women: occurrence and risk factors" (PDF). Social Science & Medicine. 33 (6): 701–05. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(91)90024-7. hdl:2027.42/29639. PMID 1957190.
  21. ^ Pearson GD, Veille JC, Rahimtoola S, Hsia J, Oakley CM, Hosenpud JD, Ansari A, Baughman KL (March 2000). "Peripartum cardiomyopathy: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Office of Rare Diseases (National Institutes of Health) workshop recommendations and review". JAMA. 283 (9): 1183–88. doi:10.1001/jama.283.9.1183. PMID 10703781.
  22. ^ "Thyroid Disease & Pregnancy". Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1 February 2017. Retrieved 20 July 2017.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  23. ^ "Thyroid disease". Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 6 February 2017. Retrieved 2017-09-11.
  24. ^ "Postpartum Thyroiditis" (PDF). American Thyroid Association. 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  25. ^ "Ectopic pregnancy – Treatment – NHS Choices". Retrieved 2017-07-27.
  26. ^ "Pregnancy complications". Archived from the original on 2016-11-14. Retrieved 2016-11-13.
  27. ^ "Miscarriage". NHS Choice. NHS. Archived from the original on 2017-02-15. Retrieved 2017-02-13.
  28. ^ Wortman AC, Alexander JM (March 2013). "Placenta accreta, increta, and percreta". Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America. 40 (1): 137–54. doi:10.1016/j.ogc.2012.12.002. PMID 23466142.
  29. ^ Husemeyer R. P., Helme Sally (1980). "Lacerations of the umbilical cord arteries inflicted by the fetus". Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 1 (2): 73–74. doi:10.3109/01443618009067348.
  30. ^ "Health problems in pregnancy". Medline Plus. US National Library of Medicine. Archived from the original on 2013-08-13.
  31. ^ a b c d e f Merck. "Risk factors present before pregnancy". Merck Manual Home Health Handbook. Merck Sharp & Dohme. Archived from the original on 2013-06-01.
  32. ^ Koniak-Griffin, Deborah; Turner-Pluta, Carmen (2001). "Health risks and psychosocial outcomes of early childbearing: a review of the literature". Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing. 15 (2): 1–17. doi:10.1097/00005237-200109000-00002. PMID 12095025. S2CID 42701860 – via Ovid.
  33. ^ Bayrampour, Hamideh; Heaman, Maureen (September 2010). "Advanced maternal age and the risk of cesarean birth: a systematic review". Birth (Berkeley, Calif.). 37 (3): 219–26. doi:10.1111/j.1523-536X.2010.00409.x. ISSN 1523-536X. PMID 20887538.
  34. ^ Brouwers, L; van der Meiden‐van Roest, AJ; Savelkoul, C; Vogelvang, TE; Lely, AT; Franx, A; van Rijn, BB (December 2018). "Recurrence of pre‐eclampsia and the risk of future hypertension and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta‐analysis". BJOG. 125 (13): 1642–54. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.15394. ISSN 1470-0328. PMC 6283049. PMID 29978553.
  35. ^ Bhattacharya, Sohinee; Jones, Gareth T.; Scott, Neil W.; Lamont, Kathleen (2015-06-24). "Risk of recurrent stillbirth: systematic review and meta-analysis". BMJ. 350: h3080. doi:10.1136/bmj.h3080. ISSN 1756-1833. PMID 26109551.
  36. ^ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. Preventing Smoking and Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Before, During, and After Pregnancy Archived 2011-09-11 at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009. Tobacco Use and Pregnancy: Home. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  38. ^ a b "New Mother Fact Sheet: Methamphetamine Use During Pregnancy". North Dakota Department of Health. Archived from the original on 2011-09-10. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
  39. ^ Della Grotta S, LaGasse LL, Arria AM, Derauf C, Grant P, Smith LM, Shah R, Huestis M, Liu J, Lester BM (July 2010). "Patterns of methamphetamine use during pregnancy: results from the Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle (IDEAL) Study". Maternal and Child Health Journal. 14 (4): 519–27. doi:10.1007/s10995-009-0491-0. PMC 2895902. PMID 19565330.
  40. ^ Williams, Pamela; FLETCHER, Stacy (September 2010). "Health Effects of Prenatal Radiation Exposure". American Family Physician. 82 (5): 488–93. PMID 20822083. S2CID 22400308.
  41. ^ Eisenberg L, Brown SH (1995). The best intentions: unintended pregnancy and the well-being of children and families. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press. ISBN 978-0-309-05230-6. Retrieved 2011-09-03.
  42. ^ "Family Planning - Healthy People 2020". Archived from the original on 2010-12-28. Retrieved 2011-08-18.
  43. ^ Gavin AR, Holzman C, Siefert K, Tian Y (2009). "Maternal depressive symptoms, depression, and psychiatric medication use in relation to risk of preterm delivery". Women's Health Issues. 19 (5): 325–34. doi:10.1016/j.whi.2009.05.004. PMC 2839867. PMID 19733802.

External linksEdit