Pregnant? 6 abnormal signs you should call your doctor


by Carol Brown-Elliott, MD

Aug 4, 2020

Morning sickness. Heartburn. Tearing up for no reason. Strange food cravings. Most women who have been pregnant know some or all these symptoms well. 

As an OB/GYN who specializes in maternal-fetal medicine and a mom, I am quite familiar with them myself. I also know that they are generally nothing to worry about. Most pregnant women likely know this too, which is probably why I don’t get many calls every time one of my expectant patients gets an uncontrollable urge for microwave ramen noodles at 3 a.m.

However, there are certain pregnancy-related symptoms that may not necessarily be cause for concern, but that always warrant at least a phone call to the doctor caring for your pregnancy.

But before getting to those, pregnant women should know that they’re never ‘bothering’ their doctor by reaching out with any question or issue at any time that may arise during pregnancy. That’s what we’re here for.

And with that, let’s talk about a few pregnancy-related symptoms that may warrant a conversation with your doctor.

1. Bleeding

Any vaginal spotting or light bleeding during pregnancy should mean an evaluation at your OB/GYN’s office. It may not be an indication that something is wrong, but it needs to be checked out. 

Pregnant women experiencing heavy bleeding should immediately go to the hospital Emergency Department or Labor & Delivery and if possible, alert your doctor’s office.    

2. Abdominal pain that doesn’t go away

Pregnant women tend to think any abdominal pain is a normal part of pregnancy. But pregnant women can have an appendicitis, an infection of the uterus, or bleeding in the uterus between the placenta and uterine wall, all of which can cause abdominal pain.

Even if an evaluation doesn’t turn up any issue initially, if the pain — even a vague pain — continues, you should continue to follow-up with your care provider. Some pregnancy-related conditions may not show up on initial test results and can be difficult to uncover. It may take additional observation and exams to make a diagnosis.   

3. Rapid weight gain and swelling

Of course, growing a baby will involve gaining weight. But rapid weight gain and swelling (gaining more than 3 to 5 pounds in a week), could indicate a blood pressure disorder such as pre-eclampsia, which needs to be addressed. Headache, blurry vision, seeing spots and abdominal pain also are possible signs of pre-eclampsia.

Talk to your OB/GYN if you are pregnant and notice these symptoms. 

4. GI changes

Like abdominal pain, symptoms affecting your gastrointestinal system may seem as though they should be normal. After all, the growing baby is causing all sorts of shifting along the GI tract. Shouldn’t issues such as diarrhea, intestinal cramping and ongoing abdominal discomfort be expected? 

Maybe. However, they may also be an indicator of pre-eclampsia or pre-term labor, so they need to be checked

Related: How to deal with nausea, vomiting and other pregnancy side effects

5. Urinating less

A decrease in urination also can indicate a potential blood pressure issue during pregnancy that is affecting kidney function. As the baby grows and puts pressure on the bladder, most pregnant women have to urinate more often, not less. 

6. Other rarer, but serious symptoms

While heartburn may be normal throughout a pregnancy, pain in the chest, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing are not — and can be signs of a heart attack or blood clot in the lungs. Likewise, pregnant women experiencing numbness on one side of their body or in an extremity, or any change or slurring of speech, should call 911 immediately as these are potential signs of a stroke. 

Changes in the breasts also are normal during pregnancy. A mass in the breast is not. Any mass you discover should be checked to make sure it isn’t breast cancer.  

Another uncommon but potentially serious scenario is a pregnant woman who has never had chicken pox but comes into contact with someone who previously has. If this happens and you begin to develop lesions, it is vital that you seek a prompt medical evaluation. 

All your other questions and worries

Beyond these symptoms, if there is ever a concern, talk to your doctor. Every expectant mother is entitled to a safe delivery, and that begins with a safe pregnancy. Rest assured that your OB/GYN is here to partner with you every step along the way.  

Find an OB/GYN near you.

About the Author

Carol Brown-Elliott, MD, is an OB/GYN specializing in maternal-fetal medicine on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - McKinney. She consults on complex cases, focusing on turning high-risk pregnancies into low-risk deliveries.

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