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You might begin your pregnancy with no apparent health problems but there is a possibility that during gestation you may develop medical conditions, which have the potential to put you and your unborn child at risk.

Pregnancy-associated complications may suddenly appear during the course of gestation, explains Dr Prashanth Hegde, Specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Thumbay University Hospital. “These include possible rise in blood pressure (gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia) and gestational diabetes where the sugar level may start shooting up.”

Gestational hypertension is diagnosed when your blood pressure is higher than 140/90mm Hg and occurs in the second half of pregnancy. It can also lead to pre-eclampsia, a condition characterised by protein in your urine along with high blood pressure.

“Gestational hypertension can become a life-threatening condition if not managed correctly,” says Dr Gertrud Koster, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Medical Director at Koster Clinic. Untreated it not only affects foetal growth but can also cause seizures that may result in death.

Another major problem is the excessive weight women gain during pregnancy. With it comes the danger of gestational diabetes marked by glucose intolerance. Regular monitoring and management is needed to make sure the condition doesn’t trigger premature delivery or cause stillbirth. Although blood sugar levels go back to normal after delivery, it increases the mother’s risk of developing diabetes later in life.

Management is key

Dr Ghassan Lotfi, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Al Zahra Hospital Dubai, says some of the risk factors such as obesity and diabetes can be prevented by choosing a healthy way of life prior to pregnancy.

“However, most of these factors are naturally triggered by the pregnancy as a foreign body towards the host that is the mother.”

With such complications, regular monitoring and careful management are required to ensure successful outcomes. That’s why screening is paramount.

“Early screening by a healthcare professional is critical,” emphasises Dr Koster. “And ensure that follow-up visits are regularly maintained.

“An OB/GYN is specially trained to identify risk factors and advise on lifestyle changes or modifications. They can perform a thorough laboratory blood analysis to establish if there are any underlying conditions that might affect the pregnancy.”

Dr Anne Minsart, Specialist Foetal Medicine at Mediclinic Parkview Hospital, believes screening has revolutionised obstetric practice. “Screening in the first trimester for infectious diseases, high blood pressure and foetal abnormalities has allowed us to anticipate and prepare for complex cases.

“Screening for diabetes early on in the pregnancy enables us to manage this serious condition alongside a diabetologist to prevent complications in the mother and baby.”

Pre-pregnancy and prenatal screening can also catch infections that have the potential to result in miscarriage, premature labour, or low birth weight in babies.

“Pregnancy can also become high risk if it turns out to be multiple gestation with twins, triplets or quadruplets,” adds Dr Hegde. “Problems could arise from abnormal placental location called placenta previa too. Sometimes there is a mismatch between the blood groups of the mother and her partner (Rh negative pregnancy) leading to foetal risk.”

Although many of these complications cannot be prevented, religiously attending all the antenatal appointments would help doctors diagnose them on time and manage them.

“My advice to any woman is to ensure that their body weight is ideal prior to pregnancy,” says Dr Aisha Alzouebi, Consultant Obstetrics & Gynaecology. “Ensuring that a woman is active throughout her pregnancy will improve her mental and physical well-being. This alone will reduce the risks of blood pressure and diabetic problems.”