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Pregnancy causes the body to go through some astounding changes — a woman's blood doubles in volume, her rib cage expands, ligaments throughout her body loosen and abdominal organs are shoved aside to make room for an expanding uterus and baby.
Given these dramatic physical transformations, it's not surprising that pregnancy increases women's risk for some unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, conditions.
"It would be unusual for a woman to not have at least one of those symptoms, if not several," said Dr. Christopher Glantz, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y. "It's very uncommon that they portend something more serious."
However,doctors keep a sharp eye out for the warning signs that something serious may be occurring. With regular prenatal visits, a woman should be able to safely navigate the various issues and illnesses that occasionally pop up as her baby bump grows.
Here's a look at nine conditions for which women's risk increases during pregnancy.
PreeclampsiaSlide 2 of 19
Preeclampsia is defined by a sudden, elevated blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy, along with protein in the urine. In serious cases, the condition can lead to kidney failure, seizures, liver injury, respiratory problems and even death.
Preeclampsia affects 5 to 7 percent of pregnant women, and the risk generally increases with a woman's age, according to a 2012 study from Finland. In that study, 6.4 percent of women under age 35 had a preeclampsia, while 9.4 percent of those over 35 had the condition. A higher BMI, and gestational diabetes can also predispose a woman to the condition.
Researchers still aren't sure what causes preeclampsia, although several ideas exist, including abnormal formation of the placenta, or malfunctions in the mother's immune response.
"You'd think we would know why this condition occurs — it's been around for so many years," Glantz said, "but we still don't understand why it happens to some women."
The only "cure" for the condition is delivering the baby; however, early detection and regular monitoring can help avoid worst-case scenarios, and can lead to a healthy pregnancy.Slide 3 of 19
Gestational diabetesSlide 4 of 19
Gestational diabetesoccurs when a pregnant woman's placenta produces insulin-blocking hormones, Glantz said. Normally, these hormones lower the amount of sugar being taken up by a woman's body cells, so instead that sugar remains in the bloodstream, and is available to the baby, he said.
But this system can go haywire if a woman is already slightly insensitive to glucose, or her hormones go overboard. Such conditions, combined with demand for sugar from a rapidly growing baby, can overload her pancreas to the point where it cannot produce enough insulin to deal with her blood sugar levels.
Gestational diabetes occurs in 2 to 14 percent of pregnant women. Those with a high body-mass index (BMI), excessive weight gain and low physical activity during pregnancy and a family history of diabetes are especially vulnerable to developing the condition.
"The rate has been going up over the years," Glanz said. "One reason is because women who are pregnant are getting heavier."
In most cases, women can manage the condition by eating an appropriate diet and exercising. If this doesn't work, oral medication, or, as a last result, insulin shots, can be used to manage blood glucose levels.Slide 5 of 19
Heart disease or heart attackSlide 6 of 19
Heart disease or heart attack
A woman's cardiovascular system transforms during pregnancy: her blood volume doubles, her heart rate increases and her blood pressure can drop due to increased blood flow to the uterus.
Typically, these changes are relatively harmless, and healthy women with no history of heart disease are at no increased risk for cardiovascular problems when pregnant. However, women with a history of heart conditions face higher rates of heart-related problems.
In about 1 to 3 percent of pregnancies, women develop heart-related problems, and cardiac disease is responsible for 10 to 15 percent of pregnancy-related deaths.
Despite these risks, women with pre-existing heart conditions can have safe and healthy pregnancies, but should consult with their doctors and be closely monitored, according to a 2012 paper on the topic by UK researchers.Slide 7 of 19
AnemiaSlide 8 of 19