What is a High-Risk Pregnancy?

Here at The Memphis Obstetrics and Gynecological Association, we know nothing can cause more emotional ups and downs than the incredible pregnancy journey! And we also know that the last words any potential mother wants to hear from their doctor are that they have or may have a high-risk pregnancy. 

Just the term itself can sound intimidating! Luckily, we have made amazing strides in prenatal care over the years, and nowadays, situations that could have been incredibly challenging are handled with a degree of confidence and attention to detail that should put any new or potential mother at ease. 

Still, though, the thought of a high-risk pregnancy can certainly bring plenty of questions to mind! Read on to learn more about high-risk pregnancy, including what one is, how to manage risks associated with pregnancy, and more. 

High-Risk Pregnancy – What Is It? 

At the most basic level, a high-risk pregnancy is one in which either the mother, the baby, or both are exposed to an increased risk of experiencing health problems either before, during, or after delivery. 

There are certainly all sorts of ways a pregnancy might be considered to be high-risk, but some of the most common are factors such as: 

Preexisting conditions: 

The National Institute of Health recognizes several key preexisting conditions when it comes to potential high-risk pregnancies, including:

  • High Blood Pressure – while high blood pressure can definitely be a risk factor for both the mother and the fetus, it’s important to note that many women with marginally elevated bp and no other underlying conditions can and do have perfectly healthy and relatively risk-free pregnancies. However, if you suffer from uncontrollable high blood pressure, you may be at risk for kidney damage, low birth rate, or a condition known as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that is characterized by a high bp, generally 140/90mmhg or above, and can lead to serious complications for the mother, the fetus, or both. It can even be fatal. For this reason, it is very important that you get control of and effectively manage high blood pressure before and during pregnancy. BP should always be closely monitored during each prenatal visit in order to successfully navigate pregnancy. 
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal disorder that causes enlargement of the ovaries as well as the formation of small cysts on the outer edge, PCOS isn’t fully understood but is likely caused by the confluence of genetic and environmental factors. Women with PCOS suffer a higher rate of pregnancy loss up to 20 weeks into pregnancy, as well as developing diabetes or preeclampsia. Be sure and tell your doctor if you have PCOS and are thinking about getting pregnant so you can work closely with them to manage associated risks. 
  • Diabetes – early in the term of a pregnancy, fetuses are especially susceptible to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, and this can lead to a number of different birth defects. This can be especially challenging, as often the most vulnerable period is so early in the pregnancy that the mother may not yet know she is pregnant. Even if your diabetes is well-managed and generally under control, be sure and work closely with your provider at each stage of pregnancy, as metabolic changes that can occur during pregnancy must be carefully monitored and treated.  
  • Kidney disease – while plenty of women with mild kidney disorders have healthy pregnancies, it has been found that at least one-in-five cases of preeclampsia present with undiagnosed kidney disorder as an underlying risk factor. 
  • Autoimmune disease – issues like lupus and multiple sclerosis can prove challenging to new mothers during pregnancy and delivery. Different women respond differently to their autoimmune diseases during pregnancy, as it’s possible, you may notice symptoms lessening in frequency and severity or the opposite. Another issue is that certain medicines used to treat your disorder may be dangerous to the fetus, so it’s vital to work closely with your provider if you’re managing an autoimmune disease during pregnancy. 
  • Thyroid disease – The thyroid is one of the most important regulatory glands in the body, responsible for a wide range of processes and functions, and it is therefore unsurprising that women dealing with hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or any related disorder are at a higher risk for complications during and after pregnancy. 
  • HIV/AIDS – since HIV and AIDS are transmissible via the placenta to the fetus, it is important to work closely with your provider if you’re thinking about or recently discovered you are pregnant and manage HIV or AIDS. Fortunately, there have been huge strides in this area in recent years, and treatments exist which greatly lessen the risk of transmitting the disease to your baby either during or after pregnancy. With proper treatment, the USA has seen a dramatic decline in transmission – less than 1%. 

What is a High-Risk Pregnancy?

What Are Some Other Factors That May Result In High-Risk Pregnancy? 

While preexisting medical conditions are one of the major factors that could contribute to a pregnancy being considered high-risk, additional conditions exist, such as the mother’s age and lifestyle. 

Age – How Does That Factor Into High-Risk Pregnancy? 

The National Institute of Health classifies any pregnancy occurring at or over the age of 35 as technically high-risk. For this reason, if you are at or over 35 and are thinking about or have recently become pregnant, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to ensure the health of you and your baby. That being said, there has never been a better time to be pregnant later in life! Outcomes have drastically improved with advancements in prenatal care, and since we know so much more about the body than ever before, plenty of risks that used to be seriously life-threatening are now entirely manageable. 

However, it’s important to remember that issues related to blood pressure, known as gestational hypertension, as well as diabetes (gestational diabetes), are more common in women over the age of 35. Additionally, ectopic pregnancy, in which the fetus attaches outside the uterus, is a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder that is, again, more common in women over 35. 

On the other side of the coin, younger mothers in their teens are also at an increased risk of complications in pregnancy, such as high blood pressure or anemia, as well as pre-term delivery, when compared to their older counterparts. Also, teen mothers are statistically less likely to seek proper prenatal care, so it’s vital to foster an environment of open, non-judgemental communication with our teens regarding sex and pregnancy. 

What is a High-Risk Pregnancy?

The Memphis Obstetrics And Gynecological Association Always Has Your Best Interest at Heart

The thought of a high-risk pregnancy can be overwhelming, but with the Memphis Obstetrics and Gynecological Association, you have a team of experts working round the clock to serve you and your baby with the best healthcare available, including prenatal, postnatal, and everything in between! 

We love and appreciate our patients and want to stress that you can call us at any time with questions, comments, or concerns. Just reach out at 901-843-1500, or if you’re a new or prospective patient, fill out this form to get started! We’ll see you soon, and thanks again for reading!