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Infections during pregnancy in the uterus and vagina

During pregnancy, women sometimes suffer from an infection. Vaginal infections are especially common during pregnancy. Uterine infections also sometimes occur. Usually such conditions are not a cause for concern. Occasionally such infections do affect the developing baby. This mainly happens when these infections are left untreated. All pregnant women who experience unusual symptoms should consult a doctor or midwife. Furthermore, prenatal care is crucial because it allows the doctor to detect certain infections even before they cause symptoms.

  • Uterine infections during pregnancy
  • Causes and risk factors
  • Complications
  • Therapy
  • Vaginal infections during pregnancy
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Group B streptococci (GBS)
  • Vaginal yeast infections (vulvovaginal candidiasis)
  • Other infections during pregnancy
  • Hormonal changes
  • Increased blood circulation
  • Treatment of pregnancy infections
  • Complications
  • Prevention of infections

 

Uterine infections during pregnancy

Causes and risk factors

Uterine infections often develop when bacteria travel from the vagina to the uterus. An untreated vaginal infection is a risk factor for uterine infections. When the waters break during a prolonged labor, the risk of developing a uterine infection increases.

Complications

An infection in the uterus may affect the placenta in which the baby develops. Furthermore, a uterine infection sometimes causes premature labor. Birth defects are also sometimes caused by uterine infections. Uterine infections also make labor difficult. Some women also experience organ failure and other life-threatening complications.

Therapy

Treatment consists of antibiotics and requires hospitalization. If the woman develops a fever during labor, the doctor checks the fetus. If symptoms are severe, a cesarean section is necessary.

Vaginal infections during pregnancy

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an easily treatable bacterial infection in the vagina. Symptoms include:

  • a large amount of thin, gray-colored discharge
  • a bad odor that worsens after intercourse
  • a fishy odor coming from the vagina
  • itching, burning sensation or pain in the vagina or vulva

If the doctor does not treat bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy, it will lead to premature birth and babies with a lower birth weight.

Group B streptococci (GBS)

Group B streptococci are a group of bacteria that come and go in the body but often reach the vagina and rectum. They usually cause no symptoms. However, women who have GBS in their bodies during childbirth pass it on to their babies in one to two percent of cases. Very occasionally this is fatal for a newborn. The doctor is able to detect the presence of GBS as a standard part of prenatal care. Intravenous (through a vein) antibiotic treatment is necessary to significantly reduce the risk of a GBS infection being passed on to the baby.

Vaginal yeast infections (vulvovaginal candidiasis)

The fungus Candida causes a vaginal yeast infection. This infection usually occurs during pregnancy due to changes in the immune system, increased glycogen production and higher estrogen levels. Vulvovaginal candidiasis is more common during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.The most common symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:

  • a thick, white, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge
  • a smell of bread or beer from the vagina
  • itching around the vagina or vulva
  • pain or burning sensation in or around the vagina
  • pain or burning sensation during intercourse

Thanks to antifungal medications, it is possible to treat a vaginal yeast infection. However, pregnant women should not use these medicines without first talking to a doctor or midwife .

Other infections during pregnancy

Pregnancy causes many changes in the body, making women more susceptible to complications from many infections. Infections may occur more quickly during pregnancy due to hormonal changes and other changes in the number of blood cells in the body. For example, late in pregnancy, T cells that help fight an infection decrease.

Hormonal changes

For example, hormone-related skin changes during pregnancy cause conditions such as eczema (chronic skin disease with dry skin and itchy skin) or severely dry skin. If the skin breaks open and bleeds, a serious skin infection such as cellulitis (bacterial skin infection with red skin and swollen skin) occurs. A rare skin condition called Sweet’s syndrome (skin lesions with fever) is also more common during pregnancy.Some other infections that are more serious during pregnancy include :

  • the flu
  • hepatitis E, which is a typically mild form of hepatitis
  • herpes, including herpes simplex virus (HSV) and varicella zoster virus (VZV)
  • HIV
  • Listeria, which can cause food poisoning
  • the measles

 

Increased blood circulation

Pregnancy also leads to increased blood circulation and more demands are placed on the heart. These demands also sometimes exacerbate complications. For example, if a pregnant woman develops pneumonia from the flu, she will have more difficulty breathing due to the increased demands the fetus places on the heart and lungs.

Treatment of pregnancy infections

Some medications that effectively treat common infections are less safe during pregnancy. So it’s essential that pregnant women who have an infection talk to their doctor or midwife to weigh the benefits and risks of different treatment options.

Complications

Most women who experience an infection during pregnancy do not experience any complications. Prompt treatment increases the chance of a healthy birth. Numerous infections potentially affect the developing baby. However, it is difficult for doctors to determine whether and to what extent a fetus will be affected.Infections can:

  • directly harm the baby by making changes that lead to birth defects
  • harm the mother, reducing her body’s ability to nourish the baby
  • cause premature labor or miscarriage
  • require medications that could harm a fetus

Infections known to be harmful to the developing baby include:

  • bacterial vaginosis, which can cause premature labor
  • infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, syphilis, herpes and HIV, that can infect the fetus
  • chlamydia, which can cause eye infections and pneumonia
  • cytomegalovirus, which is often harmless but can also cause birth defects and intellectual disability
  • gonorrhea, which can contaminate the amniotic fluid, cause premature labor and lead to eye infections and possibly blindness
  • group B streptococcus, which can cause serious complications in newborns and in rare cases can be fatal
  • Listeria, which can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects
  • toxoplasmosis, which can cause birth defects and intellectual disabilities
  • fifth disease (erythema infectiousum), which can cause miscarriage or cause fetal anemia
  • Zika, which is usually mild, can cause pregnancy loss or birth defects in babies. However, with this infection, which is carried by mosquitoes, it is unclear to doctors in October 2020 why some fetuses are affected and others are not.

 Good hand hygiene is necessary / Source: Gentle07, Pixabay

Prevention of infections

A number of strategies reduce the risk of developing an infection during pregnancy:

  • wash hands regularly, carefully and diligently (good hand hygiene)
  • using a condom and asking a partner to be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STDs)
  • get a flu shot
  • not sharing food or drinks with other people
  • do not consume unpasteurized foods
  • do not eat raw or undercooked meat
  • asking someone else to change the litter
  • not traveling to areas where Zika occurs, and using bug spray to prevent mosquito bites
  • avoid women who have contagious infections
  • get tested for STDs and group B streptococci

 

read more

  • Hormonal imbalance: Causes of hormonal fluctuations
  • Bacterial vaginosis: Foul-smelling discharge from vagina
  • Candidiasis: Fungal infection caused by yeast Candida