10 Diseases that Can Affect Pregnancy

The diseases that affect pregnancy are multiple, but most can be solved with home care and the occasional drug. Unfortunately, some are also lethal.
10 Diseases that Can Affect Pregnancy
Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador

Written and verified by el biólogo Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador.

Last update: 30 April, 2024

Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful times that a couple can experience but it’s also fraught with biological challenges for women: The uterus increases up to 500 times its normal size, blood volume increases by 40-50%, hormonal concentrations change, and many other things. In addition, there are diseases that can affect pregnancy and make it even more complicated.

Despite the complications at this time, the maternal mortality rate during pregnancy in high-income areas is extremely low, 12 per 100,000 deliveries, as indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, there are exceptions to the rule and regions that are less fortunate. Keep reading to discover ten diseases that can affect pregnancy.

Diseases that affect pregnancy

Gestation is conceived as a safe time for the fetus and the mother alike but, unfortunately, this perception is only held in high-income countries with strong health infrastructures. The global ratio of deaths in this process is 211 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, but the distribution of figures is very uneven.

At the national level, 19% and 14% of maternal deaths during pregnancy occur in India and Nigeria, respectively, representing 1/3 of total deaths at this stage. If we add Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and a few other regions, these low-income regions account for 66% of maternal deaths.

All these figures apply without counting fetal deaths. According to the United Nations and WHO, an unborn infant dies every 16 seconds, which is equivalent to about 2 million lives lost each year. Around 50% of these deaths occur during childbirth in low-income countries, while in Europe, this figure stands at 6%.

All of these percentages leave us with a clear idea: Many things can happen during or at the end of pregnancy, but almost all conditions are treatable or preventable with adequate social health care. Here are ten diseases that affect pregnancy and how to detect them before it’s too late.

1. Nausea, vomiting, and hyperemesis gravidarum

As the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth indicates, vomiting and nausea during pregnancy (NVP) are by far the most common symptoms present in pregnant women. Nausea affects 80% of pregnant women, while an additional 50% have a tendency to vomit during this stage.

Nausea is more common in the morning and is believed to be primarily attributable to female hormonal changes. Patients with higher levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that begins to be released when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall, tend to have more problems of this type.

Beyond typical nausea, pregnant women can suffer from a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum. This involves consistent and prominent nausea and vomiting, hypersalivation, weight loss, dehydration, constipation, and the inability to eat certain foods without vomiting them.

Having mild nausea and occasional vomiting is normal (especially in the ninth week), but hyperemesis gravidarum is a situation that requires medical attention.

2. Gestational hypertension

A woman taking her blood pressure with a digital machine.
Any of the variants of hypertension are characterized by causing few symptoms, and due to the large number of complications that can arise in pregnancy, early detection is necessary.

Gestational hypertension is an increase in blood pressure above normal in pregnant women. It affects 3 out of every 50 pregnant women, which automatically makes it one of the most common diseases that can affect pregnancy.

This condition is very different from normal chronic hypertension, as the latter is already present before the woman becomes pregnant. Although the causes of this physiological event are unknown with certainty, professional sources consider the following triggers:

  • Having had a history of high blood pressure before pregnancy or during a previous pregnancy
  • Having chronic kidney disease
  • Having diabetes
  • Be under the age of 20 or over 40 years of age
  • Having twins or triplets instead of a pregnancy with a single fetus

Gestational hypertension appears with symptoms such as headache, edema (fluid accumulations), vision changes, difficulty urinating, and many other alterations. Due to the possible complications derived from this condition, sometimes the obstetrician will decide to push the delivery forward to 37 weeks of pregnancy.

3. Cytomegalovirus infection

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a genus of herpesviruses in the Betaherpesvirinae subfamily. CMV infection is generally asymptomatic, so few people know that seroprevalence in 20-year-old adults is greater than 60%. According to other sources, 95% of women have experienced it by age 36, the vast majority without realizing it.

Unfortunately, if a woman is infected during pregnancy, the body can pass to the fetus through the placenta, although it rarely occurs. About 1 in 200 babies are born with congenital cytomegalovirus, and one in five of affected neonatal patients will have some symptoms of the condition.

Some of the clinical signs of CMV infection in newborn babies are reduced head size, seizures, rash, liver problems, and lung failure. The infection can be detected at during the first two to three weeks of the newborn with saliva, urine, or blood tests.

4. Toxoplasmosis

The situation with toxoplasmosis is quite different from that of the infection just mentioned. This pregnancy disease is a zoonosis, which means that it’s transmitted from animals to humans, specifically through contact with domestic cats. As in the previous case, an infected mother can transmit the pathogen to her child via the placenta, with much worse results.

In the countries with the highest incidence, between 3 and 6 children per 1000 deliveries are born with toxoplasmosis. In other words, they’re born already infected by the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. In any case, transplacental infection only occurs if the mother has been infected just before or during pregnancy, not if she was exposed to the microorganism at another time in her life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, babies are at greater risk of becoming infected with T. gondii if the mother is infected in the third trimester, with this possibility being much lower in the first trimester. Unfortunately, many of the infectious conditions that begin early in pregnancy end with spontaneous abortions or newborn babies with very severe systemic symptoms.

The antibiotic spiramycin can reduce the risk of neurological problems in the baby if infected before birth. The sooner the baby is infected, the worse the prognosis.

5. Listeriosis

Listeriosis is a rare disease in the general population. However, due to its symptoms, it’s of great importance to pregnant women and newborns. Perinatal listeriosis complicates between 12 and 16 out of 100,000 births and causes fetal mortality in 23%, which constitutes 2% of fetal losses in high-income areas.

During pregnancy, Listeria monocytogenes infection may cause only mild symptoms in the mother. However, the consequences for the baby can be devastating: Uterine death and fatal infection after birth are common complications in this clinical picture. Prompt treatment with antibiotics may help prevent this outcome.

This bacterium is transmitted through contaminated food, so you have to be very careful with what you eat in the pregnant stage.

6. Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

According to studies, up to 30% of pregnant women have at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) during this stage, which makes this disease one of the most common in pregnancy. Hormonal changes and vesicourethral reflux typical of this phase are believed to favor the development of UTIs in healthy women greatly.

The common symptoms in these clinical pictures are a burning sensation when urinating, pain in the lower back (lumbar level), the feeling of wanting to urinate constantly, and blood or strange colors in the urine itself. Fortunately, most conditions resolve with antibiotics prescribed for 3 to 7 days.

Compositional changes in the urine and the pressure of the uterus on the bladder can also promote UTIs during pregnancy.

7. Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a very complex clinical entity. Although not much is known at the social level, it’s estimated that 14% of pregnant women develop it at some point in the process, which translates into about 18 million cases each year. Obesity, nutritional deficiency, advanced maternal age, and other characteristics promote the appearance of this condition.

This clinical picture presents a peak onset between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy. Therefore, at this time, blood sugar levels are usually monitored in all pregnant women. Gestational diabetes is well controlled with changes in diet and moderate physical activity, but insulin injections in the mother may also be required at times.

Some of the effects that excess glucose in maternal blood can have on the baby and on the woman are the following:

  • The infant is born with a greater weight than is adequate: As the child receives an excessive sugar intake, they are overfed before they’re born. This means that a cesarean section is often necessary to bring the baby into the world.
  • High blood pressure in the mother: As we’ve seen, blood pressure and gestational diabetes are closely related.
  • Maternal hypoglycemia: Diabetic women who have to take insulin to lower blood sugar levels may become hypoglycemic in overdose.

8. Depression

A woman sitting on a couch resting her face on her fist, looking sad and lost in thought.
Hormonal alterations, physical changes, and relationship or work problems are just some of the factors that can influence the appearance of depression during pregnancy.

Perhaps you didn’t expect a psychological disorder among the ten diseases that can affect pregnancy, but this list would certainly be incomplete if we failed to mention depression. The prevalence of this clinical picture in pregnant women is 23.6%. 19% suffer it in the first quarter, 14.3% in the second and 66.6% in the third. It’s something much more common than you might first think.

Depression is characterized by generalized sadness, apathy, lack of interest in stimulating activities, negative intrusive thoughts, feelings of restlessness, and many other disturbances. Specifically, in pregnant women, this discomfort can take shape with the following thoughts:

  • Excessive anxiety about the baby and possible illnesses they may have.
  • Low self-esteem, feeling that the patient isn’t fully capable of assuming her role as a mother.
  • Poor compliance with prenatal care.
  • Low weight gain due to an improper and irregular diet.
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or using other drugs during pregnancy.

If you see yourself reflected in any of these points, don’t hesitate to go to a psychiatric professional. He or she will help you cope with the strange sensations that are experienced during pregnancy. Keep in mind that the administration of antidepressants is also sometimes necessary.

9. Ectopic pregnancy

The term “ectopic pregnancy” refers to the process that takes place when the fertilized oocyte implants itself outside the endometrial cavity. The prevalence of this disease during pregnancy ranges between 1.2-1.9% and is on the rise, although it seems that the trend has stabilized in recent years.

At first, there are no symptoms. However, as the fertilized egg grows in the wrong place, the situation becomes very complicated. If it continues to grow rampant, bleeding into the abdominal cavity may occur. Extreme lightheadedness, fainting, and shock indicate that the patient is at risk of death.

Ectopic pregnancy is the main cause of death in the first trimester of pregnancy and is responsible for 9% of maternal deaths at this stage.

10. Gestational anemia

Anemia is a condition in which the patient lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry an adequate level of oxygen to the tissues in the blood. Interestingly, as the Stanford Children website indicates, anemia during pregnancy is completely normal unless hemoglobin levels are exceptionally low.

The explanation is simple: During pregnancy, a woman has more total blood, as she must simultaneously nourish the fetus and her own body. This causes the concentration of maternal red blood cells to decrease, but this situation isn’t a pathological condition. As long as the erythrocyte levels are 12.5 g / dL, there’s nothing to worry about.

There are many pregnancy diseases, but few are serious

There are many common diseases that affect pregnancy, but few are problematic if managed early. Therefore, you should always put yourself in the hands of a doctor when any of them appear.

Finally, it’s crucial to emphasize that not all women are lucky enough to put themselves in the hands of health workers in the event of a gestational complication. We must visibilize the reality of those who are less fortunate, as thousands of lives are lost annually during this stage.

Este texto se ofrece únicamente con propósitos informativos y no reemplaza la consulta con un profesional. Ante dudas, consulta a tu especialista.