High Risk Pregnancy

Introduction

A high-risk pregnancy is a pregnancy that involves increased health risks for the pregnant person, fetus or both. Certain health conditions and your age (being over 35 or under 17 when pregnant) can make a pregnancy high risk. These pregnancies require close monitoring to reduce the chance of complications.

What is a high-risk pregnancy?

All pregnancies carry risks. The definition of a “high-risk” pregnancy is any pregnancy that carries increased health risks for the pregnant person, fetus or both. People with high-risk pregnancies may need extra care before, during and after they give birth. This helps to reduce the possibility of complications.

OVERVIEW

However, having a pregnancy that’s considered high risk doesn’t mean you or your fetus will have problems. Many people experience healthy pregnancies and normal labor and delivery despite having special health needs.

SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES

What causes high-risk pregnancy?

Factors that make a pregnancy high risk include:

  • Preexisting health conditions.
  • Pregnancy-related health conditions.
  • Lifestyle factors (including smoking, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and exposure to certain toxins).
  • Age (being over 35 or under 17 when pregnant).

What are common medical risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy?

People with many preexisting conditions have increased health risks during pregnancy. Some of these conditions include:

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis (MS).
  • COVID-19.
  • Diabetes.
  • Fibroids.
  • High blood pressure.
  • HIV/AIDS.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Low body weight (BMI of less than 18.5).
  • Mental health disorders, such as depression.
  • Obesity.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • Thyroid disease.
  • Blood clotting disorders.

Pregnancy-related health conditions that can pose risks to the pregnant person and fetus include:

  • Birth defects or genetic conditions in the fetus.
  • Poor growth in the fetus.
  • Gestational diabetes.
  • Multiple gestation (pregnancy with more than one fetus, such as twins or triplets)
  • Preeclampsia and eclampsia.
  • Previous preterm labor or birth, or other complications with previous pregnancies.

What are the signs and symptoms of high-risk pregnancy?

Talk to your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms during pregnancy, whether or not your pregnancy is considered high-risk:

  • Abdominal pain that doesn’t go away.
  • Chest pain.
  • Dizziness or fainting.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • The fetus's movement stopping or slowing.
  • Fever over 100.4°F.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Nausea and vomiting that’s worse than normal morning sickness.
  • Severe headache that won’t go away or gets worse.
  • Swelling, redness or pain in your face or limbs.
  • Thoughts about harming yourself or the fetus.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge.

At what age is a pregnancy considered high risk?

People who get pregnant for the first time after age 35 have high-risk pregnancies. Research suggests they’re more likely to have complications than younger people. These may include early pregnancy loss and pregnancy-related health conditions such as gestational diabetes.

Young people under 17 also have high-risk pregnancies because they may be:

  • Anemic
  • Less likely to get thorough prenatal care.
  • More likely to have premature labor or birth.
  • Unaware they have sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

What are the potential complications of high-risk pregnancy?

A high-risk pregnancy can be life-threatening for the pregnant person or fetus. Serious complications can include:

  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure from pregnancy).
  • Eclampsia (seizure from pregnancy).
  • Preterm delivery.
  • Cesarean delivery (C-section).
  • Excessive bleeding during labor and delivery, or after birth.
  • Low or high birth weight.
  • Birth defects.
  • Problems with the fetus's brain development.
  • Neonatal intensive care unit admission for your baby.
  • Intensive care unit admission for you.
  • Miscarriage.
  • Stillbirth.