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002: Common Infections in Pregnancy

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Learn about common infections in pregnancy

Pregnancy  is a time when infections are common. This is a result of hormonal as well as anatomical changes your body is going through. Among some of the most common infections during pregnancy are urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis.  These 3 infections will be discussed here. Other more serious infections include Toxoplasmosis, Listeria, Parvovirus and sexually transmitted diseases. These infections will be discussed in a later article.

 Urinary Tract Infection

One of the most common infections in pregnancy is urinary tract infection (UTI).  These infections are common in pregnancy because of the anatomical changes in the urinary tract.  The urethra (the tube that carries the urine to the outside of the body) becomes shorter allowing bacteria to enter more easily.  The weight of the growing uterus can also block the drainage of urine from the bladder causing urine to linger in the bladder causing infection.

Lower urinary tract infections are sometimes referred to as cystitis, an inflammation of the bladder. Symptoms of lower UTIs are burning or pressure while urinating, urinating more frequently, presence of blood in the urine, passing small amounts of urine and a feeling of incomplete emptying.  Abdominal pain, chills, fever, back pain, nausea and vomiting can signify a more serious infection or progression of a lower UTI to an upper UTI.  Untreated bladder infection or lower UTI can lead to pyelonephritis (kidney infection).  Kidney infection often requires admission to the hospital for intravenous (IV) antibiotics.  Untreated or serious kidney infection can lead to premature labor, low birth weight or other serious problems.

Lower UTIs are relatively easy to diagnose and treat.  Diagnosis is usually based on symptoms.  However, in pregnancy, often a woman can have a “silent” UTI, exhibiting no symptoms.  For this reason, screening for UTI is performed frequently in pregnancy with urine cultures and urine-dips.  If a urine infection is suspected, your health provider will likely send  a urine culture and start you on an antibiotic.

Prevention of UTIs in pregnancy is possible.  Some methods to avoid UTIs include the following:

  • drinking plenty of fluids, especially water and unsweetened cranberry juice
  • urinating frequently, especially after intercourse and when your bladder feels full
  • wearing cotton underwear and loose fitting clothing to avoid excessive sweating and moisture
  • remembering to wipe from front to back to avoid introducing fecal bacteria to the urinary tract
  • maintaining good hygiene by showering everyday, avoiding tub baths
  • eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding refined foods and excessive sugar

Yeast Infection

Another common infection in pregnancy is yeast infection. Yeast infection can be defined as an overgrowth of yeast in the vaginal tract. Symptoms include a white or yellowish, thick, curd-like discharge, often with an odd or foul odor, itching, discomfort while urinating, vaginal and vulvar irritation and painful intercourse.

Many factors can cause a yeast infection.  Among these are pregnancy from hormonal changes. Another common cause is recent antibiotic use.  Others causes include high blood sugar (diabetes), intercourse, excessive or vigorous washing and douching.

Treatment of yeast infection is usually accomplished with an intravaginal cream.  Oral treatment is avoided in pregnancy. If you suspect a yeast infection you should see your health care provider so you can be checked for other infections such as sexually transmitted disease that can sometimes mimic yeast infections.

Prevention of yeast infection can be accomplished by:

  • wearing cotton underwear and loose fitting clothing to avoid excessive sweating and moisture
  • avoiding over-washing, harsh soaps, and douching
  • eating yogurt that contains probiotics, often labelled as containing “live and active cultures” meaning they contain bacteria such as lactobacilli that help keep the yeast count low in the vagina

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is the most common infection in women of child-bearing age. It is common during pregnancy and is caused by an overgrowth of the odor-causing or “bad” bacteria of the vagina.  Symptoms can include a foul smelling discharge, burning on urination, and vaginal or vulvar irritation.

Bacterial vaginosis can affect pregnancy because it has been linked to preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM) and preterm delivery.

Treatment is accomplished with antibiotics.  Bacterial vaginosis has a tendency to recur so don’t be surprised if you get the infection more than once.  Avoid over-washing and douching and eat plenty of yogurt containing probiotics to help avoid it.

Urinary tract infection, yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis are very common infections occuring in pregnancy. It is important to see your health care provider if you suspect any of these infections when you are pregnant because these infections can feel differently of can mimic other, more serious, infections.