Symptoms to be aware of

Pregnancy is a time of enormous change for your body. Changes in hormones, weight and metabolic processes all produce different, but for the most part, normal symptoms of pregnancy. Nonetheless, there are some symptoms which may indicate something more serious.

Below are some things to be aware of in your pregnancy. Please note, this is not a complete list of symptoms and if you are unsure or concerned, it is always best to talk to your GP or to Dr Hong.

Itching

Itching can be a very common symptom in pregnancy, and is most likely due to:

  • Skin stretching as the baby grows.
  • An increased blood supply to the skin.

In some cases, women may experience itching, which could be due to a more serious condition called obstetric cholestasis (OC). The itch can range from mild to intolerable, usually developing late in the second or early in the third trimester.

Although the exact cause is not completely understood, it is thought to be a combination of environmental, genetic and hormonal factors. This condition can have serious complications for the baby.

Symptoms of OC include:

  • Itching, which usually starts on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, but it could be all over the body as well.
  • The itching tends to be worse at night.
  • The itching could also present with a rash (but not always).
  • Light-coloured bowel movements.
  • Dark-coloured urine.
  • Eyes and skin may be yellowish in colour (known as jaundice).
  • Pain in your upper right abdomen.
  • Nausea and poor appetite.

Swelling

Swelling can also be a common symptom in pregnancy and usually affects the feet and ankles. Typical swelling in pregnancy is due to the following:

  • Increased fluid and blood in the body.
  • Hormonal changes which cause your blood vessels to work less effectively.
  • The extra weight from your baby can press on major blood vessels, which reduces the ability for the blood to be pumped back to your heart, resulting in excess blood pooling in your feet legs and ankles.  This can increase the risk of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis), which is discussed below.

Symptoms of swelling which could indicate a more serious condition known as pre-eclampsia include:

  • Sudden, rapid swelling, which doesn’t reduce with rest or elevation.
  • Increased swelling of any kind.
  • Swelling of the hands and face.

Additional symptoms of pre-eclampsia also include:

  • Blurred vision and seeing flashing lights
  • Severe headaches
  • Pains in the upper stomach region
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • General feelings of being unwell

If you experience any of the above symptoms of pre-eclampsia during your pregnancy you should seek urgent medical attention.

Deep vein thrombosis (blood clots)

Women are more at risk for blood clots during pregnancy, labour and after childbirth due to:

  • Your blood clotting more easily during these periods to help prevent excessive bleeding.
  • Reduced circulation due to pressure of baby on major blood vessels.
  • Significant periods of bed rest or immobility after delivery.

Symptoms of a blood clot include:

  • Swelling typically only in one leg.
  • The swelling is painful.
  • The skin can be warm or hot to touch.

It is important you seek medical attention immediately if you experience these symptoms.

Vaginal bleeding

In early pregnancy slight bleeding or spotting is common and usually a sign of implantation of the fertilised egg in the womb. However heavier bleeding could be a sign of something more serious including:

  • A miscarriage – when the pregnancy stops developing. Typical symptoms include cramping, period-like pain and bleeding.
  • Miscarriages are more common in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but can occur anywhere up to 20 weeks.
  • An ectopic pregnancy – where the egg has been fertilised outside of the womb or where the fertilised egg failed to travel to implant itself in the womb cavity. It usually occurs in the fallopian tube and women may experience:
    • Severe pain on one side of the abdomen.
    • Pain on the tip of their shoulder (where the arm and shoulder meet).
    • Vaginal bleeding, which can be bright red or dark in colour.
  • Molar pregnancy – (also known as a hydatidiform mole) is a type of rare pregnancy, where abnormal tissue forms inside the womb, however a baby doesn’t develop or form properly.
    • It is uncommon and it is usually found in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, either due to symptoms resembling miscarriage, or at your first antenatal ultrasound scans.

Other causes of vaginal bleeding in pregnancy include:

  • Placental abruption – which involves the placenta coming away from the wall of the uterus (this is a very serious condition and requires urgent medical attention).
  • Placenta praevia – where the placenta is very close to, or covers the opening of the cervix.

Bleeding from a placental abruption or placenta praevia occurs later in pregnancy, but it is serious and you should seek urgent medical attention.

If you experience any vaginal bleeding during your pregnancy, it is strongly recommended you seek medical attention.

Preterm labour

Preterm labour is termed any labour that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Symptoms of preterm labour include:

  • Cramps similar to period pain.
  • Waters breaking.
  • Vaginal bleeding.
  • Lower back pain that feels like a dull ache.
  • Vomiting and/ or nausea.
  • A ‘heavy’ feeling or pressure in your vagina.
  • Regular painful contractions.

If you experience symptoms of preterm labour you must seek urgent medical attention.

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