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What are the causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy?

Posted Apr 25 2013 8:13am

Experiencing abdominal pain during pregnancy is not uncommon. During the very first weeks of pregnancy, women may experience lower abdominal pain which is similar to menstrual cramps, and is usually a sign that the uterus is preparing for the changes during pregnancy.  When the uterus is growing, it puts pressure on the abdomen, urethra and lower back and this too causes discomfort and pain.  Another reason for the feeling of sharp abdominal pain during pregnancy may be caused by the ligaments around the uterus stretching – the so-called round ligament pain. During pregnancy, the hormone production and changes cause changes in the various organs of the female body, such as the bowel, esophagus and gallbladder, which can bring upon indigestion, constipation and problems with urination, all of which can lead to abdominal pain too. Gas and bloating can cause abdominal discomfort, as well as slight cramping following sex and an orgasm by the pregnant woman, but this is normal.

Later on in pregnancy, the movement of the baby in the uterus, and Braxton-Hicks contractions will cause abdominal pain which is normal during pregnancy too.

When is abdominal pain during pregnancy not normal?

So, when is the time to start worrying about abdominal pain during pregnancy? In case the pain is severe and persistent, or is accompanied by spotting or bleeding, if the pregnant woman is experiencing fever and chills, contractions or vomiting, she must seek medical attention to find the cause as soon as possible.

Some of the serious medical conditions which may cause abdominal pain during pregnancy include:

-         Miscarriage: usually starts with spotting and bleeding and is followed with abdominal pain, usually like strong, periodic menstrual cramps.

-         Ectopic pregnancy: it is normally discovered in the first trimester of the pregnancy and the dangerous pregnancy is terminated.  If left untreated, it could rupture and be fatal for the mother.  Ectopic pregnancy rupturing may cause strong persistent pain, spotting or bleeding, increasing pain during bowel movement or physical exercise, faintness and dizziness, and pain in the shoulder. A Doctor should be contacted immediately!

-         Premature labor: contractions and cervix dilations before the 37th week of pregnancy can lead to preterm labor. Vaginal discharge of any kind along with contractions in the last trimester of the pregnancy can be a sign that the woman has gone into preterm labor, and should see a doctor.

-         Preeclampsia: it occurs during pregnancy if the woman has high blood pressure, and causes spasms, swelling and puffiness. When it is left untreated, it may cause serious upper abdominal pain, problems with the eyesight, strong headaches and nausea. This is a dangerous condition, which should be managed from early pregnancy. It is diagnosed through a urine sample test. Women with such symptoms must look for medical attention, because consequences can be serious both for the mother and the baby.

-         Abruption of the placenta: this means that the placenta gets separated from the uterus either partly or entirely during the pregnancy. The signs though are not as obvious. There might be abdominal cramping and contractions as well as bleeding.  In any case, if something out of the usual and worrying is felt during the pregnancy, the woman should ask her Doctor for advice.

-         Urinary tract infections: pregnant women are more prone to getting urinary tract infections, which can lead to kidney problems and premature birth.  This is why any symptoms, such as lower abdominal pain and a constant urge to urinate, along with cloudy and strong-smelling urine should be taken seriously during pregnancy.


-         Amniotic fluid infection:  an infection of the amniotic fluid in the placenta will cause symptoms such as: fever, abdominal pain, even contractions and preterm labor.

-         Other reasons for abdominal pain during pregnancy may not be pregnancy related, and can include: food poisoning, pancreatitis, a gallbladder stone, acute appendicitis, pneumonia, thrombosis, ulcer, a stomach virus of some sort, hepatitis and other medical reasons. These all need treatment, so in case of any worrying symptoms, do not hesitate to contact your doctor.

In case the woman is experiencing abdominal pain during pregnancy, which is not caused by any more serious medical conditions, the best advice for her is to relax with her feet up. She should sit or lie down without any sharp movements.  In some cases, doing light housework or exercise, as well as walking can relieve the abdominal pain during pregnancy.

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