What is a High-Risk Pregnancy and its Risk Factors

February 6th, 2024 | 7:54 am


A high-risk pregnancy is a pregnancy that may pose complications for the expectant mother and her foetus. Certain health conditions may cause a pregnancy to become high risk. High-risk pregnancies need to be monitored closely to alleviate risks of further complications.

What is a High-risk Pregnancy?

All pregnancies carry some degree of risk, but a high-risk pregnancy may carry significant health risks for the pregnant women, their foetus, or both. Such risk may stem from factors associated with the pregnancy itself or may arise due to pre-existing health conditions in the pregnant woman, such as diabetes, lupus, or cancer. Any issues arising during the pregnancy may also make it high risk. 

Women with high-risk pregnancies may require specialised care throughout the gestational period and even post-delivery to mitigate the risk of complications. However, it should be noted that having a pregnancy that is considered high-risk doesn’t necessarily imply that you or your fetus will most definitely experience complications or health risks. It is possible that women with high-risk pregnancies may experience no complications during their gestational period or delivery.

Symptoms of High-risk Pregnancy

Having a high-risk pregnancy may come with some signs. Such symptoms can make an expectant mother worried. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it is better to get checked by a doctor as early as possible.

  • Abdominal pain that doesn’t go away
  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge 
  • Extreme fatigue
  • High fever
  • Pain in the chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting that is worse than morning sickness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Severe headache that worsens or doesn’t lessen 
  • Swelling or redness in the limbs
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the foetus

Risk Factors for a High-Risk Pregnancy 

Women with high-risk pregnancies may begin their pregnancy normally but develop some conditions that put them at risk of a high-risk pregnancy. This can happen in about 6-8% of pregnancies, but an overwhelming percentage of 50% of all pregnancies may benefit from specialised care provided by maternal and foetus care specialists. Women with pre-existing health conditions are at a higher risk of a complicated or risky pregnancy. 

The most common risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy in a woman may include the following.

  1. Pregnant at an advanced age: 
  • Women who become pregnant after the age of 35 have a higher risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and restrictions in intrauterine growth. 
  1. Pregnant at a young age: 

People who get pregnant at an age younger than 17 may also have a high-risk pregnancy as they may suffer from anaemia, and are more likely to experience premature birth or labour and may be oblivious of any sexually transmitted infections or diseases that they may have contracted.

  1. Pre-existing medical conditions:

Any medical conditions present at the time of conception may have a huge impact on a woman’s health during her pregnancy. Medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, lung, kidney or heart problems, as well as sexually transmitted diseases or autoimmune conditions (such as lupus or multiple sclerosis), may put a pregnant woman at risk of miscarriage or other gestational complications.

  1. Co-existing medical conditions:

Complications during pregnancy, like preeclampsia (high blood pressure) or gestational diabetes, may cause significant problems or may even be fatal to the mother or the foetus if left untreated. Gestational diabetes can put a pregnant woman at risk of developing preeclampsia as well as injury during delivery. It may also make caesarean section delivery necessary.

  1. Multiple pregnancy:

Carrying twins, triplets, or more than three babies may also put the expectant mother at risk of premature delivery as well as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure. 

  1. Pregnancy related problems:

Having certain types of infections (such as HIV/AIDS), a short cervix, or a previous premature birth may also put a pregnant woman and her foetus at risk of premature labour. 

  1. Blood disorders:

If a pregnant woman suffers from blood disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia, it can increase her risk of urinary tract infections, miscarriage, preterm labour, and restriction in intrauterine growth. 

  1. Placenta previa:

This is another pregnancy related condition that may put a pregnant woman at risk during the gestational period and labour. In this condition, the affected individual suffers from excessive bleeding, especially if the person is experiencing contractions. In such a condition, doctors may recommend a caesarean section delivery to minimise the risk of bleeding in both the mother and the baby.

  1. Obesity:

Obesity is one of the biggest concerns during pregnancy. About 35% of all women of reproductive age are obese, which can increase their risks of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, miscarriage, recurrent miscarriage, and stillbirth. 

  1. Depression:

Depression in a pregnant woman may lead to adverse outcomes, including a higher risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and an increased likelihood of undergoing a caesarean section delivery.

Apart from these risk factors, women having fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders, and blood clotting disorders may also experience high-risk pregnancies. 

Some risk factors of a high-risk pregnancy related to the fetus may include:

  1. Birth defects like congenital heart condition 
  2. Chromosomal defects such as Down syndrome 
  3. Genetic diseases like Fragile X syndrome
  4. Inherited diseases, like cystic fibrosis 
  5. Foetal growth restrictions in which the foetus grows slower than normal
  6. Foetal anaemia, a condition or inadequate amount or quality of red blood cells in the foetus that prevents carrying oxygen to the organs in the body


Most women whose pregnancies are considered as “high-risk” may not experience any event of complications during the gestation period or during labour and delivery of the baby. However, they may still be predisposed to certain health problems in the future such as cardiovascular conditions, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and postpartum depression. They may experience complications during subsequent pregnancies. Notwithstanding the risk factors of a high-risk pregnancy, every pregnant woman should have access to extra care before, during, and after the delivery of their baby. Close monitoring and thorough prenatal care is important to prevent any subsequent complications after birth. 

To gain a better understanding of the likelihood of a high-risk pregnancy, it is advisable to consult with leading gynaecologists and neonatal care specialists at Giggles Hospital. They can do a comprehensive assessment of both the mother and the baby, ensuring a worry-free pregnancy and promoting well-being of your little one.