Health conditions that develop during pregnancy

Some health conditions only develop during pregnancy. These are known as gestational conditions. Some of these conditions are more serious and need specialist treatment and care.

You'll be referred to an obstetrician for your pregnancy care if you develop a condition during pregnancy. You may have extra appointments and extra scans too.

When to get medical help

Phone your local maternity unit or the NHS 24 111 service immediately if you:

  • have bleeding from your vagina
  • have discharge from your vagina such as watery, clear or coloured discharge
  • have vision problems (such as blurred vision and flashing lights) or a severe headache
  • have severely swollen hands, ankles and face, feeling sick or being sick
  • have constant pain in the upper part of your abdomen
  • have chest pain or breathing problems
  • feel very unwell
  • think you’ve noticed changes in your baby’s movements

These could be a sign of serious health problems for you or your baby.

Vaginal bleeding

Bleeding isn’t always serious. Some women bleed a little on and off throughout pregnancy for lots of reasons. However, bleeding can sometimes be a sign of something serious.

If you've any bleeding from your vagina, contact your midwife or local maternity unit immediately for advice. If you've heavy bleeding with or without severe pain, phone for an ambulance immediately.

Placenta praevia

Placenta praevia is when the placenta's lying low, covering your cervix. This makes it more likely to bleed.

It's uncommon and there isn’t any specific treatment, but it does need close monitoring.

If you have placenta praevia your baby may need to be delivered by caesarean section.

Placental abruption

Placental abruption is when your placenta comes away from the wall of your womb.

It's more likely to happen later in pregnancy and can be life-threatening to you and your baby.

If you have a placental abruption:

  • you'll need emergency treatment
  • your baby will probably be delivered by caesarean section

Cervical weakness

Cervical weakness is when your cervix starts to open. It can lead to a miscarriage or cause your baby to be born early.

If you have cervical weakness:

  • you may be offered scans of your cervix to check it
  • you'd have a stitch put in your cervix if it needs treatment

If you’ve had recurrent miscarriage and/or pre-term delivery in the past, talk to your midwife or GP about getting extra help from your obstetrician early in your pregnancy. This can help to reduce the chances of it happening again.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy.

Around 4 in 100 women develop diabetes when they’re pregnant and it’s becoming more common. Usually it goes away after your baby's born, although some women go on to develop type 2 diabetes in later life.

If you have gestational diabetes, you'll:

  • be cared for by an obstetrician and a diabetes specialist doctor
  • receive advice about your diet and what type of treatment will work best for you

Some women with gestational diabetes:

  • can manage their condition by changing their diet
  • need medication as well as changing their diet
  • need tablets or insulin or both

When your baby's born they'll need to have their blood sugar level checked too. This is usually done with a blood spot test.

High blood pressure

Your blood pressure will be checked regularly throughout your pregnancy. If it’s raised it could mean you have pregnancy-induced hypertension or pre-eclampsia.

Both conditions can sometimes cause serious problems for you and your baby.

Your obstetrician may suggest you take tablets to lower your blood pressure.

More about high blood pressure

Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that you only get when you’re pregnant. Most of the time it's mild but for some women it can be dangerous for them and their baby. For this reason, you'll be closely monitored by your midwife and obstetrician.

More about pre-eclampsia

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

DVT is a blood clot in a deep vein in your leg, calf or pelvis.

You may be more likely to get DVT if you’re:

  • sitting for long periods (especially 4 hours or more)
  • doing very little activity
  • travelling on a long-distance flight
  • in hospital for a while

Swollen and uncomfortable legs are common when you’re pregnant. However, DVT is more likely during pregnancy and in the first 12 weeks after having a baby.

Symptoms of DVT

The main symptoms, usually in just one leg, are:

  • red skin that’s warm or hot to touch
  • swelling
  • pain

If you have these symptoms it doesn’t always mean there's a problem. If you’re worried, talk to your midwife or GP immediately.

If your medical history suggests you're at an increased risk of developing a DVT, your obstetrician may suggest giving you daily medication to try to prevent DVT formation.

More about deep vein thrombosis

Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism happens when a blood vessel in your lungs is blocked by a clot.

These clots can:

  • break off from a DVT and you may not know it's happening
  • travel through your body in your blood stream until it gets to your lungs, where it gets stuck

If a DVT is found and treated, it lowers your risk of developing a pulmonary embolism.

Symptoms of pulmonary embolism

The main symptoms of pulmonary embolism are:

  • pain in your chest
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling very unwell

If you have any of these symptoms, phone an ambulance immediately.

Obstetric cholestasis

Many women have some itching in pregnancy. Usually it's just a bit uncomfortable, but sometimes it can be the sign of a condition called obstetric cholestasis.

Obstetric cholestasis affects your liver, and can lead to your baby being born early or stillbirth.

If you have itching, even if mild and particularly on your hands and feet, always tell your midwife or your GP. An obstetrician will provide your pregnancy care if obstetric cholestasis is diagnosed.