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Pregnancy & Birth / Pregnancy Stages / Third Trimester Health

4 High-Risk Pregnancy Conditions

How to have a healthy pregnancy and birth when you're diagnosed with complications
like preterm labor, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or placenta previa.
By Hallie Levine from Parents Magazine




Preterm Labor
What it is. Labor before the 37th week. About 10 percent of infants are premature.
What causes it. Doctors aren't sure, but risk factors include carrying multiple fetuses, a
history of premature labor, an abnormality of the cervix, and certain vaginal infections.
Symptoms. See your physician right away if you notice bloody or watery vaginal
discharge or experience abdominal cramps or backache.

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Treatment. Bed rest can sometimes reduce pressure on the cervix, making it less likely
to dilate. But a new study indicates that bed rest may do more harm than good in some
situations, so ask your doctor whether it's necessary. "We also encourage drinking lots
of fluids, because dehydration can cause uterine contractions," says Iffath Hoskins,
M.D., executive director of the Women's Services Memorial Health Medical Center, in
Can you prevent it? Reduce your risk by having your thyroid checked before getting
pregnant. Women who have untreated thyroid disease are more likely to deliver
prematurely. Before you conceive, it's also important to get screened for bacterial
vaginosis, which has been linked to premature birth. Stress-management techniques
such as yoga can also help, because several studies have found a link between high
levels of stress hormones and preterm delivery rates. Finally, if you have a history of
preterm delivery, ask your doctor about progesterone shots, which may reduce the risk
of premature birth by almost 20 percent.

What it is. High blood pressure and protein in the urine that afflicts up to 8 percent of
pregnant women. It can cause blood clotting and impaired kidney and liver function.
What causes it. One study suggests preeclampsia may be caused by a protein that
halts the growth of blood vessels in the placenta, while another study suggests the odds
for it increase with a woman's prepregnancy body-mass index. At highest risk: moms
carrying more than one fetus, women over 40, or those who have a close relative who's
had preeclampsia.
Symptoms. High blood pressure, swelling in the hands and feet, severe headaches,
blood in the urine, or extreme nausea.
Treatment. If symptoms are mild, most physicians suggest bed rest. Vitamins E and C
may also help. Delivery usually ends the condition.
Can you prevent it? You can decrease the likelihood by staying at a healthy weight,
eating a nutritious diet, and getting regular exercise.

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Gestational Diabetes
What it is. High blood-sugar levels, occurring in about 4 percent of pregnant women,
which puts the baby at risk of being too big.
What causes it. Your pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to counteract
pregnancy hormones that increase blood-sugar levels.
Symptoms. May include thirst, increased urination, and blurred vision. But women
often have no symptoms at all.
Treatment. Most cases can be controlled with a high-fiber diet that's low in sugars,
though some women need insulin injections or the drug glyburide. Gestational diabetes
usually disappears after delivery, but about half of women with gestational diabetes
develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Can you prevent it? You can reduce your risk by staying at a healthy weight, eating a
low-fat, high-fiber diet, and exercising regularly.

Placenta Previa
What it is. A condition, occurring in fewer than 1 percent of pregnancies, in which the
placenta covers the cervix. This is dangerous because during labor, when the cervix
dilates and the uterus expands, portions of the placenta may tear and bleed, causing

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the mother to hemorrhage.

What causes it. Doctors aren't sure, but risks include carrying multiple fetuses, having
had C-sections or abortions, and being over 40.
Symptoms. Bleeding during the second or third trimester.
Treatment. If bleeding is light, your doctor may just monitor you closely. In 90 percent
of cases, the placenta moves away from the cervix on its own. If the placenta
completely blocks your cervix, however, your doctor may recommend bed rest.
Recurrent bouts of bleeding may require hospitalization.
Can you prevent it? No. Simply report any bleeding to your doctor immediately.

What Would Happen If?

I had an X ray before I knew I was pregnant?
There's no cause for concern. Experts believe that only if you were exposed to a large
dose of radiation -- like 20 abdominal X rays -- could there be potential harm to the

I drank wine before I knew I was pregnant?

If you had a glass or two of wine several times a week, most likely the baby will be fine.
The key is to stop drinking now.

I fell?
In most cases, you'll be fine because the baby is swathed in amniotic fluid, which
protects it.

I had to sit through an evening in a smoke-filled room?

Once or twice shouldn't be a big deal, but it's a cause for concern if it happens a lot.

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Copyright 2004. Reprinted with permission from the August 2004 issue of Parents
All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related
information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a
specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the
information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek
the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you
may have regarding your own health or the health of others.
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