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When to seek medical help during pregnancy

When to seek medical help during pregnancy

Each pregnancy is unique, and all bring significant physical changes - sometimes, a pregnancy can also bring unexpected events. You may sail through pregnancy with minimal discomforts or complications. But if not, how can you tell if what you are feeling is normal? When should you go to see your GP or midwife? The best thing to do is to be informed, and consult your midwife or doctor whenever you need to. Don't be afraid to ask questions! Knowing what's happening in your body, and why, is one of the best ways to minimize stress for you and your baby.

The most important symptoms

Your body will undergo many changes while you are pregnant. Some are symptoms letting you know that medical attention is required, while others are just temporary changes that usually disappear after the birth. Above all, it's important to know when to seek medical advice when you are pregnant. Some of these symptoms may indicate a complication in your pregnancy - the following are five signs for which you should seek medical help:

  • Bleeding. Minor vaginal bleeding during pregnancy is called spotting. The cause is not always known, and many women with an otherwise healthy pregnancy spot. However, heavier bleeding can indicate problems, and prompt attention should be sought. When you ring your midwife or doctor, you will need to tell them the colour of the blood (bright red or brown), how much you are bleeding, and if you are also having pain. There is a possibility that you will need to stay overnight in hospital.
  • Intense headache. This can indicate blood pressure problems. A slight increase in blood pressure is common in pregnancy, but it is very important that it is monitored by a midwife or doctor, as it can lead to more serious conditions such as pre-eclampsia.
  • Severe vomiting. Mild nausea and vomiting are normal, but be sure to drink enough fluids to make up for what you lose. Severe vomiting can lead to dehydration and may require a brief hospital stay.
  • Severe abdominal pain. There can be several causes for this pain, but the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy makes immediate attention very important.
  • High fever. This can have several causes. Most fevers indicate infection, requiring fast treatment - for you and your baby's health.
  • Itching. Finally, an itch caused by a rash usually does not a present a problem, but if the itching occurs spontaneously, you should speak to your GP or midwife.

Anaemia is another problem that may develop during pregnancy and is caused by your increased need for iron. If you are feeling very dizzy, have headaches, are short of breath and look pale, you may have anaemia. Your GP or midwife will be able to do a quick blood test to tell you if you are anaemic or not. Good sources of iron include red meat, fish, leafy vegetables, nuts and beans. Also, it may be worth consulting your GP or midwife about iron supplements.

Unusual swelling in the hands, feet and face, caused by changes in circulation, is another reason to see your GP or midwife. While mild swelling is considered normal, and is usually relieved by lying down to rest, more severe swelling requires prompt medical attention because it may be a sign of pre-eclampsia.

High blood sugar is a sign of gestational diabetes - but it can only be discovered at your antenatal checks. You may be offered a 'glucose tolerance test' at 26-28 weeks, if your GP is worried that you might be at risk.

Don't worry!

If you're feeling worried at this point, don't be! The chances are that you will not have to cope with these events. But it's better to know about them. The good news is that for many of the less serious side effects of pregnancy, you can do things to take control, ease the symptoms and make life easier for yourself.

A few other side effects of pregnancy

Varicose veins and patchy changes in skin colour - also known as the 'mask of pregnancy' are some visible changes that occur during pregnancy. Neither of these signifies a health risk to you or your baby.

Urinary tract infections or 'UTIs' are less visible, but can be uncomfortable. You should seek treatment for a UTI because, in rare instances, infection can contribute to premature delivery.

Yeast infections (such as thrush), and haemorrhoids are both uncomfortable, but both can be treated with medication and changes in diet.

Above all, remember that physical and emotional changes vary widely from woman to woman, and also between pregnancies. Your body will adapt to being pregnant in its own way, and if you are concerned about anything, just ask your midwife or doctor. The more you understand about your own pregnancy, the more relaxed you will feel - which is better for you, and for your baby!