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Common ailments during pregnancy

During pregnancy most women can expect to suffer from various minor ailments, which are nothing to be too worried about, but it is always helpful to know what to expect and how to deal with it.

It is almost inevitable that you will experience some degree of backache during pregnancy, which can be experienced at any time, although it is more likely to occur as you get bigger and your posture changes. It is usually felt as a general discomfort in your lower back, sometimes with pains across your bottom and down your legs.

backache can be relieved through massage, heat, rest and analgesics, such as Paracetamol. It will help if you can keep your weight under control and maintain some form of light exercise. Help your posture by wearing low-heeled shoes and trying not to slouch. If your back pain is really severe, first consult your doctor who may refer you to an osteopath or physiotherapist.

Constipation can occur at any time during your pregnancy, making opening your bowels and passing stools difficult and uncomfortable. It is quite normal for your bowel habits to change during pregnancy with an increase in constipation and irregular bowel movements. Unfortunately, this can cause haemorrhoids and piles to occur, although not usually until the second trimester.

To help prevent constipation you should ensure that you drink plenty of fluids - at least eight glasses of water every day. High fibre foods can also be helpful, such as bran and baked beans as they increase the bulk in your diet. Never use laxatives unless advised to by your GP.

The actual cause of increased leg and feet cramps during pregnancy is not known, though they are thought to be caused by low calcium or salt levels. They are a sudden and sometimes severe pain in the legs or feet that can wake you from sleep, followed by a general ache that can last for some time.

Massage the area very firmly and flex your foot upwards, or if possible, walk around, preferably on a cool, hard surface. If your levels of calcium or salt are low your doctor may prescribe you tablets, particularly if cramp becomes a severe problem.

If you suffer from diarrhoea during pregnancy it is almost certainly due to an infection or virus. As always, if you get a bout of diarrhoea, you should increase the amount of fluids you drink to avoid becoming dehydrated. Extra fluids will also ensure that your blood pressure remains normal. In severe cases you should consult your doctor who will prescribe any necessary treatment.

Faintness and minor black outs can occur quite suddenly and leave you feeling unsteady on your feet. They can come on if you stand up quickly, or have been standing for too long, especially in hot weather. A lack of blood supply to the brain and the demands of the uterus for an increased blood supply are the most common causes for the feeling of faintness. So, avoid standing for long periods and sit or lie down if you feel dizzy. Try to keep as cool as possible during hot weather and don't get up suddenly from sitting or lying. If you do feel faint, put your head as far down as you can between your knees. It is also a good idea to keep a bottle of smelling salts close to hand.

Heartburn is felt as a burning sensation in the chest and is sometimes accompanied by the bringing up of stomach acid into the mouth. It tends to occur most commonly, when you are lying down, coughing, straining when going to the toilet and if you are lifting anything heavy. In early pregnancy the muscular valve at the entrance to the stomach relaxes under the influence of progesterone. This allows stomach acid to flow up into the oesophagus, causing the burning sensation. In later pregnancy the baby can press up on the stomach, forcing the contents back into the oesophagus. To try and avoid heartburn, you should keep your meals small to prevent the stomach from becoming too full, instead opt for frequent nutritious snacks.

High blood pressure
The cause of high blood pressure in pregnancy is not really known, although in some women, the placenta produces chemicals called vasoconstrictors, which can cause the blood vessels to constrict. High blood pressure can be mild with few symptoms, or severe with many symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision and vomiting. These can be combined with water retention, causing the feet, hands and ankles swelling. It is most common in the later weeks of first pregnancies, especially if you are over thirty-five or are having a multiple pregnancy.

It is important that your blood pressure is checked at each antenatal visit as severe cases can result in pre-eclamtic toxaemia, which in rare cases can be fatal. If your blood pressure goes up at any stage of your pregnancy you should have complete bed rest. In severe cases you will be admitted to hospital, where you can be constantly monitored. If your baby appears to be suffering as a consequence, labour may be induced or a caesarean performed. After your baby's birth your blood pressure should return to normal.

Difficulty in sleeping during pregnancy can happen at any time from conception onwards. This can be caused simply by the fact that you need to urinate more often and consequently, wake more during the night, however, your growing baby does not recognise night from day and is on the go whatever the hour. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling tired and irritable so it is important that you rest during the day, particularly in the last few months. Try having a warm bath and a hot milky drink before going to bed. Watch television or read a book until you feel really sleepy before turning out the light. Find the most comfortable position for sleeping and try not to get too hot. If you are getting really exhausted you can be prescribed sleeping pills by your doctor, but only up until the end of the second trimester when they can affect your baby.

Mood swings
The hormone balance changes during pregnancy can have a depressant effect on your nervous system, causing you to feel almost pre-menstrual. As your body shape changes, plus your mixed feelings about your forthcoming parenthood, it is only natural that some women experience periods of unexplained crying and anxiety. These feelings are very natural as you come to terms with the huge changes about to occur in your life. Very often all that is required is a reassuring cuddle.

Morning sickness
The main cause of morning sickness is low blood sugar, but pregnancy hormones also irritate the stomach directly. Despite its name, morning sickness can occur at any time of the day and can vary from mild nausea to vomiting. The worst time, however, seems to be first thing in the morning when your stomach is empty, although it can be triggered by strong smells and cigarette smoke.

It is a good idea to keep some plain biscuits and a glass of water beside the bed for the morning, but during the day try to eat little and often as food seems to provide some relief. Avoid things like fried foods and coffee as they can trigger nausea. It may also help to keep boiled sweets and high glucose drinks to hand throughout the day.

Morning sickness usually disappears by the second trimester, however, in very severe cases it may be necessary to spend a few days in hospital to replace any lost fluids.

Piles are varicose veins that occur in the rectum. As your baby grows the pressure it places on the rectum hinders the blood flow to the heart. This causes blood to pool and the veins to dilate to accommodate the extra blood. By eating plenty of high fibre foods your stools will remain soft, which will help you not to strain when passing a motion. Lifting weights should be avoided as it increases pressure on the rectal veins, as does coughing.

Rib pain
Rib pain is caused when the uterus rises in the abdomen and pushes up against the ribs. It can be made more uncomfortable when your baby is very active and is have a good kick and punch. This occurs mainly during the third trimester when your baby is taking up most available space and is often worse when you are sitting down as space is constricted even further. The only real relief is to change your posture so that you are not cramped. Once your baby has dropped down into your pelvis, any time after 36 weeks, the pain should cease.

Tender breasts
Tender breasts are often one of the first signs of being pregnant. The general feeling is generally a combination of heaviness and discomfort, with a tingling sensation in your nipples. This sensitivity lasts throughout pregnancy, but tends to intensify as you near term. The hormones preparing your breasts for lactation and the milk ducts stretching as they fill with milk cause this tenderness.

To help relieve your breasts ensure that you wear a good support bra from early on in your pregnancy. It can also help to wear a bra at night. Smooth in baby lotion or oil to prevent sore nipples.

Thrush is an infection caused by the yeast Candida albicans, which occurs naturally in the bowel. Infection occurs when the yeast grows uncontrolled by other bacteria. It is particularly common in pregnancy, probably because of the leakage of sugar into your body fluids due to an increase in your vaginal blood flow.

Your doctor will prescribe you with either pessaries or a cream, which will eliminate the infection and stop the itching. Meanwhile, avoid wearing tight fitting trousers and choose underwear with a cotton gusset.

Varicose veins
Varicose veins are the same as piles but appear not only in the rectum, but also on legs and even in the vulva. Varicose veins in the legs do have a tendency to ache if you have been standing for long periods, so put your feet up as often as you can. Wearing support tights can also help.

Water retention
Water retention occurs when there is an excessive amount of fluid in the tissues, causing swelling, especially of the feet. There are a number of possible causes of water retention during pregnancy. These include standing for long periods, causing fluid to collect in the ankles, High blood pressure, which can force fluid from the blood stream into the tissues, causing oedema and pregnancy hormones causing retention of salt in the kidneys, causing the body to retain fluid.

Avoid standing for long periods and salty foods and put your feet up as often as possible. When you attend your antenatal examinations you will checked for water retention as a matter of course, if there is a severe problem then you will probably be prescribed a course of diuretics.

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