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Existing health problems

Long-term conditions and pregnancy

Pregnancy puts a strain on your body, and the state of your health before you get pregnant can affect how well you are throughout your pregnancy. It can also have an impact on your baby's wellbeing.

If you have a long-term or chronic condition, such as epilepsy or any of the conditions listed below, it could affect the decisions you make about your pregnancy, like where you may want to give birth.

While there is usually no reason why you shouldn't have a smooth pregnancy and a healthy baby, some health conditions do need careful management to minimise risk to both you and your baby.

If you have a chronic condition - including any of the conditions listed on this page - it's important to make an appointment with your GP or specialist, ideally before you conceive or as soon as you become pregnant. This is so that together you can develop a care plan tailored to your needs.

If you're taking medication, don't stop taking it without consulting your doctor.

Asthma in pregnancy

Pregnancy is not likely to bring on asthma if you didn't previously have it, but its effect on women who do have asthma is unpredictable.

Around one-third of asthmatic women will see an improvement, one-third will see no change, and one-third will find their symptoms get worse.

The best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy is to keep your asthma well controlled. As soon as you find out you're pregnant, see your GP for advice on how to manage your asthma.

Find out more about asthma and pregnancy, including taking your medication.

Congenital heart defect and pregnancy

Around 0.8% of babies are born with something wrong with their heart, also called congenital heart disease or congenital heart defect. Today around 85% of these babies survive to adulthood, which is why heart problems in pregnant women have become more common.

Pregnancy puts extra stress on your heart, so if you have congenital heart disease, ask your GP whether you need to be referred to a cardiologist who has experience of treating pregnant women with this condition. Do this before you get pregnant or as soon as you know that you're pregnant.

Find out more about congenital heart disease and pregnancy.

Coronary heart disease and pregnancy

Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when there is a narrowing of the arteries that supply your heart with blood and oxygen (the coronary arteries).

The main risk for women with coronary heart disease who become pregnant is that they'll have a heart attack during the pregnancy. Heart disease is a leading cause of women dying in pregnancy. 

The best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy is to visit your GP or cardiologist (heart specialist) before you start trying for a baby.

Find out more about coronary heart disease and pregnancy.

Diabetes and pregnancy

If you already have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you may be at higher risk of having a large baby (which increases the risk of a difficult birth), having your labour induced, having a caesarean section, having a baby with an abnormality, and having a miscarriage or stillbirth.

The best way to reduce the risk to your own and your baby's health is to make sure your diabetes is well controlled before you become pregnant.

Ask your GP or diabetologist (diabetes specialist) for advice. You may be referred to a diabetic pre-conception clinic for support.

Find out more about diabetes and pregnancy.

Epilepsy and pregnancy

It's hard to predict how pregnancy will affect epilepsy. For some women, their epilepsy is unaffected, while others may see an improvement in their seizures. But as pregnancy can cause physical and emotional stress, seizures may become more frequent and severe.

If you're taking drugs to control your epilepsy, it's recommended that you take a high (5mg) daily dose of folic acid as soon as you start trying for a baby. Your GP can prescribe this.

If you become pregnant unexpectedly and have not been taking folic acid, start taking it straight away.

Whatever you do, don't alter or stop taking your epilepsy treatment without specialist medical advice. A severe seizure during pregnancy could be fatal for you and the baby.

Find out more about epilepsy and pregnancy.

Read the real story of how one woman coped with epilepsy in pregnancy and labour.

High blood pressure (hypertension)

If you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, your heart has to work harder to pump the blood around your body. This can affect the heart muscle.

While the type of treatment you are given will depend on the cause of your high blood pressure, the key to a healthy pregnancy is to ensure your blood pressure remains under control. Having check-ups with your antenatal team is the best way to monitor your condition.

Find out more about high blood pressure and pregnancy.

Mental health problems in pregnancy

Mental illness can progress more rapidly during pregnancy. If you stop taking prescribed medication when you fall pregnant without consulting your doctor, this can make your illness return or become worse.

When you have your first antenatal appointment, you should be asked if you've ever had problems with your mental health in the past.

You should also be asked about this again after the birth of your baby. This is to allow your care team to pick up on any warning signs more quickly and plan appropriate care for you.

Find out more about mental health problems and pregnancy.

Obesity and pregnancy

Obesity, which is usually defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, is increasingly common. Around 15-20% of pregnant women are now obese.

Being obese in pregnancy increases your risk of complications, such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, stillbirth, and needing a caesarean section.

Before you get pregnant, you can use the BMI healthy weight calculator to work out your BMI. But this may not be accurate once you're pregnant, so consult your midwife or doctor instead.

Most pregnancies of obese women are successful, but possible problems for your baby can include premature birth and a higher risk of obesity in later life.

Find out more about obesity and pregnancy

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices