A high-risk pregnancy is one that threatens the health or life of the mother or her fetus. It regularly requires specialized care from specially trained providers. Some pregnancies become high risk as they progress, while some women are at increased risk for complications even before they get pregnant for a variety of reasons. Advance and regular prenatal care helps many women to have healthy pregnancies and deliveries without complications.
A pregnancy is classified as high-risk when there are potential complications that could affect the mother, the baby, or both. High-risk pregnancies require management by a specialist to help ensure the best outcome for the mother and baby.
Risk Factors for High-Risk Pregnancy
Maternal Age: Age is one of the most common risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy. Women who will be under age 17 or over age 35 when their baby is due are at higher risk of complications in comparison to those between their late teens and early 30s. The possibility of miscarriage and genetic defects further increases after age 40.
Medical conditions that exist before pregnancy: Conditions such as diabetes; heart, kidney, or lung problems; high blood pressure; sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); autoimmune disease; or chronic infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can present risks for the mother and/or her unborn baby. A family history of genetic disorders, history of miscarriage and problems with a previous pregnancy or pregnancies is also risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy.
Overweight and obesity: Obesity increases the chance for high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, neural tube defects, stillbirth and caesarean delivery. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) researchers have demonstrated that obesity can increase infants’ risk of heart problems at birth by 15%.
Young or old maternal age: Pregnancy in teens and women age 35 or older increase the risk for preeclampsia and gestational high blood pressure.
Medical conditions that occur during pregnancy
Two of the more common pregnancy-related problems are:-
- Preeclampsia is a syndrome that involves high blood pressure, urinary protein, and swelling; it can be dangerous or even fatal for the mother or baby if not treated. With proper management by specialist, however, most women with preeclampsia have healthy babies.
- Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes may have healthy pregnancies and babies if they follow the treatment plan from their health-care provider. Generally, the diabetes resolves after delivery. However women with gestational diabetes are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Usually, a pregnancy is considered as high risk due to some issues that arise from the pregnancy itself and that have little to do with the mother’s health. These include:-
- Premature labor is labor that starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Although there is no way to know which women will experience preterm labor or birth, there are some factors that place women at higher risk, such as a shortened cervix, certain infections or previous preterm birth.
- Multiple births means carrying more than one baby (twins, triplets, quadruplets, etc.). Multiple pregnancies, which are more common as women are using more infertility treatments, increase the risk of premature labor, gestational diabetes, and pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.
- Placenta previa this occurs placenta covers the cervix which can cause bleeding, especially if a woman has contractions. If the placenta still covers the cervix near to delivery, the doctor may schedule a caesarean section to reduce bleeding risks to the mother and baby.
- Fetal problems, which can sometimes be seen on ultrasound. Approximately 2% to 3% of all babies have a minor or major structural problem in development.
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