9 Symptoms Never to Ignore If You're Pregnant

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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  • Pregnancy can cause all kinds of physical symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, nasal congestion, breast tenderness, and increased urination. It’s important to understand the difference between normal and expected pregnancy symptoms, and red-flag symptoms that signal possible pregnancy complications. Be on the lookout for these nine symptoms, which could indicate a problem with your pregnancy. Prompt medical assessment and treatment may be necessary to protect you and your baby.

  • 1
    Vaginal bleeding
    Woman hygiene protection (sanitary)

    Up to half of all women experience vaginal spotting or bleeding during pregnancy, so don’t fret if you notice a few spots of blood on your underwear. If the bleeding is intense enough that you’re leaking through your clothes or using a pad to contain the blood, call your doctor or midwife immediately. Vaginal bleeding can be a sign of miscarriage, or signal a problem with the placenta. Your provider will want to determine the cause of the bleeding and treat it as necessary.

  • 2
    Flu-like symptoms
    Sick woman taking her temperature

    Pregnant women can get influenza (the ‘flu’). In fact, pregnant women who get the flu are more likely (than women who are not pregnant) to develop a serious case of influenza. That’s a problem for the baby too, because influenza infection during pregnancy increases the risk of complications, such as preterm labor and birth. If you develop a high fever, body aches, cough, sore throat, and severe fatigue, tell your doctor. Your doctor can run a simple lab test to see if you have influenza and prescribe medication as necessary to help you recover.

  • 3
    Severe headache
    African American woman with headache sitting on couch

    Headaches in pregnancy are common, but a headache that doesn’t go away or gets worse despite rest and treatment with acetaminophen or ibuprofen should be reported to your doctor immediately. A severe, persistent headache can be a symptom of preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition that can damage your organs and lead to premature birth. The good news: If caught early, preeclampsia is treatable. Most women with preeclampsia have healthy babies.

  • 4
    Blurred vision
    young woman at desk rubbing eyes

    Visual changes are common during pregnancy too. However, if you experience occasional blurriness or any other unusual vision symptom, including flashing lights, light sensitivity, or “spots” in front of your eyes that doesn’t clear up within a few minutes, tell your doctor. These symptoms can also be a sign of preeclampsia. Your doctor will want to check your blood pressure and urine to see if preeclampsia is causing your symptoms, or if something else may be to blame. You may need to see an eye doctor.

  • 5
    Severe abdominal pain
    Young woman sitting on the couch with stomach upset

    Some abdominal discomfort is to be expected as the baby grows and expands the uterus. Any sudden, unusual or persistent abdominal pain could be a sign of a problem, though. Early in pregnancy, abdominal pain may signal an ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. When the egg implants in a fallopian tube, another name for it is tubal pregnancy. A baby can’t develop in the fallopian tube, and without treatment, the tube may rupture. Later in pregnancy, abdominal pain or cramping may be a sign of preterm labor. Some treatments may stop or slow premature contractions.

  • 6
    Swelling of the hands and face
    Pregnant woman checking skin in mirror

    Nearly all pregnant women experience swelling of the feet and lower legs, particularly toward the end of pregnancy. Swelling of the face and hands is less common, and can be a sign of preeclampsia. If your face or hands seem puffier than usual, call your doctor, especially if you’re also experiencing other symptoms of preeclampsia, such as blurred vision and headache. Sudden weight gain—a gain of 2 to 5 pounds in a week—can also be a sign of preeclampsia. Tell your provider if your weight jumps more than expected.

  • 7
    Severe nausea and vomiting
    Pregnant Woman with Morning Sickness

    Morning sickness—occasional nausea and vomiting that can occur any time during pregnancy—is normal. Severe nausea and vomiting is not. If you can’t keep food and drink down despite your best efforts, tell your doctor or midwife. You could have a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, and medical treatment may be necessary to help you and your baby get the nutrients you need. In some cases, a brief period of hospitalization may be required. The exact cause of it is not known, but hormones are thought to play a role.

  • 8
    Decreased fetal movement
    man listening to pregnant belly

    Most women can feel their babies moving around by about 20 weeks of pregnancy. Those movements become even more obvious as the weeks go on, and you’ll likely become familiar with your baby’s moves. If your baby is suddenly less active than usual, drink a cup of juice; then, lie down to count your baby’s movements. (The sugar in the juice should stimulate your baby.) If it takes you longer than 2 hours to count 10 moves, call your doctor.

  • 9
    Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

    Depression can occur during pregnancy, and it can be life threatening. If you’re thinking of hurting yourself or your baby, please tell your healthcare provider. Counseling and prescription medication can help, and your provider will help you figure out which treatment (or combination of treatments) is best for you. Some moms-to-be shy away from antidepressants because they believe the medicine might hurt the baby. However, research shows that untreated depression can hurt fetal development, and that many antidepressants are safe for use during pregnancy.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 19
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Bleeding and Spotting from the Vagina During Pregnancy.
    March of Dimes. https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/bleeding-and-spotting-from-the-vagina-during-pregnancy.aspx
  2. Pregnancy Complications. Office on Women’s Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/youre-pregnant-now-what/pregnancy-complications
  3. Placenta Previa. March of Dimes. https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/placenta-previa.aspx
  4. Preeclampsia. March of Dimes. https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/preeclampsia.aspx
  5. What Are Some Common Complications of Pregnancy? Eunice
    Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pregnancy/conditioninfo/complications