What is a High-Risk Pregnancy? Main Factors & Ways to Control

A high-risk pregnancy is such a pregnancy in which the risk of illness or death of the mother or the newborn baby before or after birth is higher than usual.

To identify high-risk pregnancy, the doctor examines a pregnant woman in order to determine whether she has the disease or symptoms that increase the likelihood of disease or the death of her or the fetus during pregnancy (risk factors). Identification of high-risk pregnancies is only necessary to ensure that women who need intensive medical care have received it on time and in full.

A woman with a high-risk pregnancy can be sent to the department of antenatal (perinatal) monitoring (the term “perinatal” is used to refer to the events that occur before, during, or after delivery). These offices are usually related to midwifery services and neonatal intensive care units, which ensures the highest level of care for pregnant women and infants.

Doctors often refer women to the center of perinatal surveillance before birth, as early medical supervision substantially reduces the likelihood of disease or the death of the child. Women are also sent to this center during childbirth if there are unexpected complications. As a rule, the most common reason for the referral – is a high probability of premature birth (before 37 weeks). Treatment in the center of perinatal surveillance reduces the likelihood of premature birth.

Risk Factors Before Pregnancy

Before a woman becomes pregnant, she may already have some diseases and disorders that increase the risk during pregnancy. In addition, a woman who had complications in previous pregnancies has an increased chance of developing the same complications in subsequent pregnancies.


Most Common Risk Factors

The woman’s age affects the risk of pregnancy. The girls aged 15 and younger are more likely to develop preeclampsia ( a condition during pregnancy when the blood pressure rises, there is a protein in the urine, and there is an accumulation of fluid in the tissues) and eclampsia (seizures resulting from pre-eclampsia). They are also more likely to give birth to underweight or a premature child.

Women aged 35 years and older have a high risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, the presence of fibroids (benign growths) in the uterus, and the development of the disease during childbirth. The risk of birth of a baby with a chromosomal abnormality such as Down syndrome significantly increases after 35 years. If an old pregnant woman is concerned about the possibility of occurrence of anomalies in the fetus she can conduct a study of chorionic villi, or amniocentesis to determine the composition of fetal chromosomes.

If a woman has had three consecutive miscarriages (spontaneous abortion) in the first three months of previous pregnancies, the next miscarriage she may have a probability of 35%.

Spontaneous abortion is also more likely in women who have previously given stillbirth between the 4th and 8th months of pregnancy or had a premature birth in previous pregnancies. Before trying a new conception, a woman who had a miscarriage is recommended to be screened to detect possible chromosomal or hormonal diseases, structural defects of the uterus or cervix, connective tissue diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, or the immune response to the fetus. If the cause of spontaneous abortion is revealed, the risk can be eliminated.

Stillbirth or neonatal death may be due to chromosomal abnormalities, as well as the presence of diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease or blood vessels, high blood pressure, or connective tissue disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus.

If a woman has had a baby weighing at birth more than 4.2 kg (9.3 lbs), she may have diabetes. The probability of spontaneous abortion or the death of the woman or baby is increased if the woman is suffering from diabetes during pregnancy.

If a woman has had a baby with hemolytic disease, so the next newborn is likely to have the likelihood of the same disease. Furthermore, the severity of the disease in the previous child determines its severity in the future. The disease develops when a pregnant woman having Rh-negative blood, has a fetus whose blood is Rh-positive (i.e. there is an incompatibility of the Rh factors).

The mother produces antibodies against the fetal blood (there is sensitization to the Rh factor); these antibodies destroy fetal red blood cells. In such cases, the blood is tested in both parents. If the father has two genes of Rh-positive blood, all his children will have Rh-positive blood. If he has only the Rh-positive gene, the probability of Rhesus-positive blood in the child is about 50%.

Diseases of the Pregnant Woman

Some diseases of the pregnant woman can be dangerous for both her and the fetus. The most important of them: are chronic high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, severe heart disease, sickle cell anemia, thyroid disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, and disorders of blood coagulation.

Risk Factors During Pregnancy

Even healthy pregnant women can be exposed to adverse factors that increase the likelihood of violations of the fetus or her own health. For example, she may come in contact with such teratogenic factors (influences that cause birth defects), such as radiation, some chemicals, drugs, infections, a disease, or a complication associated with pregnancy.

Effect of Drugs and Infections

Substances that can cause congenital malformations of the fetus during pregnancy include alcohol, phenytoin, and drugs that counteract the effect of folic acid (lithium drugs, streptomycin, tetracycline, thalidomide). Infections that can cause birth defects include herpes simplex, viral hepatitis, influenza, Paraty (mumps), rubella, chickenpox, syphilis, listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by the Coxsackie virus, and cytomegalovirus.


Although smoking is harmful to both the mother and the fetus only about 20% of women smokers quit smoking during pregnancy. The most frequent consequence of smoking to the fetus during pregnancy is the low weight of such a child: the more a woman smokes during pregnancy the less the weight of the child. This effect can be seen more among older women who are more likely to have a child of lower weight and height.

Congenital malformations of the heart, brain, and face are more common in infants born to pregnant smokers than non-smokers. Maternal smoking may increase the risk of the syndrome of sudden infant death.

Effect -of-Drugs-and-Infections

Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the leading cause of birth defects.

Fetal alcohol syndrome includes growth retardation before or after birth, facial defects, and a small amount of the head (microcephaly), probably due to insufficient development of the brain and impairs mental development. Mental retardation is a result of fetal alcohol syndrome more often than the impact of any other known causes. Moreover, alcohol can cause other complications: from abortion to severe behavioral disorders in the newborn or the developing child, such as anti-social behavior and an inability to concentrate.

Drug abuse is noticed in the increasing number of pregnant women. In order to examine the urine of a woman on heroin, morphine, amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine, cocaine, marijuana, methadone, and phenothiazines, an inexpensive laboratory test called chromatography can be used. Injecting drug addicts, that is, drug addicts using syringes for drug use, have a higher risk of ill anemia, a blood infection (bacteremia) and heart valves (endocarditis), skin abscess, hepatitis, phlebitis, pneumonia, tetanus, and sexually transmitted diseases (in including AIDS).

Complications of Pregnancy


The most common causes of bleeding in the last 3 months of pregnancy are pathological placenta previa, premature detachment of the placenta, and vaginal or cervical disease, such as the infectious lesion. For all women with the advent of this period, the risk of miscarriage bleeding, severe bleeding, or death during childbirth is increased. Ultrasonography (ultrasound) examination of cervical smear can help to determine the cause of bleeding.

Conditions Associated with the Amniotic Fluid

The excess of amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) in the membranes surrounding the fetus stretches the uterus and puts pressure on the diaphragm of women. Sometimes this complication leads to respiratory failure in women and premature birth.

Premature Birth

Preterm birth is more likely to be if there are some defects in the uterus or the structure of the cervix of the pregnant woman, bleeding, mental or physical stress, multiple pregnancies, or if she has come through the surgery on the uterus.

Multiple Pregnancies

Having multiple fetuses in the uterus also increases the likelihood of congenital malformations in the fetus and complications in childbirth.

Delayed Pregnancy

During pregnancy, which lasts more than 42 weeks, fetal death is 3 times more likely to happen than in normal pregnancy. To monitor the status of the fetus, electronic monitoring of cardiac activity and ultrasonography need to be used.