Medical conditions that may affect pregnancy
Certain medical conditions may complicate a pregnancy. However, with proper medical care, most women can enjoy a healthy pregnancy despite medical challenges.
Diabetes before pregnancy
Diabetes is a condition in which the body either does not produce enough insulin, or cannot use the insulin that it does produce. Insulin is the hormone that allows glucose (blood sugar) to enter the cells of the body to provide fuel. When glucose cannot enter the cells, it builds up in the blood, and the body's cells literally starve to death. Diabetes in pregnancy can have serious consequences for the mother and the growing fetus. The severity of problems often depends on the severity of the mother's diabetic disease, especially if she has vascular (blood vessel) complications and poor blood glucose control.
Diabetes that occurs during pregnancy is described as:
- Gestational diabetes — when a mother who does not have diabetes develops a resistance to insulin because of the hormones of pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes may be non-insulin dependent or insulin dependent.
- Pre-gestational diabetes — women who already have diabetes and become pregnant.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a condition in which the glucose level is elevated and other diabetic symptoms appear during pregnancy in a woman who has not previously been diagnosed with diabetes. In most cases, all diabetic symptoms disappear following delivery. However, women with gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing diabetes later in life, especially if they were overweight before pregnancy.
Unlike other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes is not caused by a lack of insulin, but by other hormones that block the insulin that is produced — a condition known as insulin resistance.
Learn more about gestational diabetes.
High blood pressure and pregnancy
High blood pressure can occur during pregnancy in two forms. It may be a pre-existing condition called chronic hypertension, or it can develop during pregnancy — a condition known as gestational hypertension. It occurs most often in young women with a first pregnancy. Risk is also increased in women who are carrying more than one child at a time and in women who have had blood pressure problems during a previous pregnancy.
Preeclampsia is a more severe form of gestational hypertension, involving very high blood pressures or protein in the urine.
High blood pressure can lead to placental complications and slowed fetal growth. If untreated, severe hypertension may cause dangerous seizures and even death in the mother and fetus.
Moderate or severe preeclampsia or eclampsia (preeclampsia complicated by seizures) usually requires hospitalization and medications.
Learn more about high blood pressure and preeclampsia during pregnancy.
In addition to these conditions, women should be aware of any infections or infectious diseases they may have prior to getting pregnant, as well as any infections they may develop during the pregnancy, as these can also be dangerous for the fetus.