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It's never normal to run a fever or experience chills when you're pregnant. If you do experience these symptoms, you may have an illness that's completely unrelated to your pregnancy, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ob-gyn in Mount Kisco, NY, and co-author of the forthcoming book V is for Vagina. "It's easier to become sick when you're pregnant because your immune system is naturally suppressed," Dr. Dweck says. But there are some more serious conditions directly related to pregnancy that can cause these symptoms, too. Consult our guide to learn about the illnesses and conditions that may be to blame, as well as when to call your doctor.
Common Culprits of Fever and/or Chills
If you're feeling feverish or you have a case of the chills, you may be suffering from one of these common bugs. Rest assured -- they're all temporary and treatable!
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Up to 10 percent of expectant moms will get a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point during their pregnancies, according to the March of Dimes. Your urinary tract system encompasses your urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. An infection occurs when bacteria gets into this system and multiplies. Most UTIs are bladder infections and aren't serious if they're treated right away with antibiotics and lots of liquids. If left untreated, a bladder infection may travel to the kidneys and cause a variety of complications, including preterm labor, a low birthweight baby, and sepsis. Some UTIs are asymptomatic, but others come with symptoms such as a strong urge to urinate, a burning sensation with urination, cloudy urine, and/or blood in the urine, along with fever, chills, and pelvic pain.
You've probably experienced the fever, chills, achiness, coughing, nausea, and vomiting that signals influenza (or the flu) at some point in your life, so you know it's no fun. Pregnant women have a higher risk of getting the flu and becoming severely ill from it, as their immune systems are suppressed. How to tell if it's the flu or just a cold? The flu comes on quickly and your symptoms are more severe then with a cold, according to National Institutes of Health (NIH). If you suspect that you may have the flu, see your doctor right away. She'll recommend rest and plenty of fluids, along with an antiviral medication to shorten the span of your symptoms and prevent serious complications. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all pregnant women get the flu shot.
Upper Respiratory Infection (aka the Common Cold)
We've all suffered from this viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx. You may have symptoms that mirror the flu, as well as a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and breathing difficulty. Dr. Dweck notes that an upper respiratory infection is not as serious as the flu and usually resolves spontaneously. The symptoms usually last from 3 to 14 days, and you can treat them at home. If you're still sick after several days, however, you may have a more serious infection (sinusitis, bronchitis, strep throat or pneumonia), so it's important to call your doctor.
The diarrhea and vomiting brought on by a GI bug can have serious consequences for pregnant women if left untreated, because dehydration can cause contractions and even preterm labor. Other potential side effects include hypotension, dizziness, weakness, fainting, and, in severe cases, electrolyte imbalance, Dr. Dweck says. Most cases of these viruses will resolve on their own, but fluids such as water and Gatorade, as well as the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) are helpful. The CDC advises that you call your doctor immediately if you've not been able to keep liquids down for 24 hours, you've been vomiting blood, you have signs of dehydration (little or no urine, dry mouth, excessive thirst, dizziness), you notice blood in your bowel movements, or you have a fever above 101?F.
Serious Causes of Fever and/or Chills
In rare cases, fever, chills, and pain are linked to medical conditions that affect only pregnant women -- not just common illnesses. Here are the symptoms to watch out for, as well as when to call your ob-gyn.
In addition to high fever and chills, this bacterial infection of the membranes surrounding the fetus (the chorion and amnion) and the amniotic fluid can cause sweating, rapid heartbeat, tender uterus, and unusual vaginal discharge. If an expectant mom has this infection she'll be put on antibiotics and her doctor will deliver the baby. The baby will be checked for the infection and treated with antibiotics as well. If chorioamnionitis is severe or left untreated, the mom may suffer from infections of the pelvic region and abdomen, endometritis, and blood clots, and her baby could have complications including sepsis, meningitis, and respiratory problems. Risk factors for chorioamnionitis include prior amniocentesis (usually in the previous two weeks), and premature or prolonged rupture of the membranes.
Septic abortion is when "the uterus and its contents become infected as a result of a surgically or medically treated miscarriage or abortion," Dr. Dweck explains. It occurs in the first trimester, and symptoms include a high fever, chills, severe abdominal pain or cramping, vaginal bleeding and discharge, and backache. If an expectant mom has this condition, she will be treated with antibiotics and her ob-gyn will ensure that her uterus has been completely evacuated. If the condition is left untreated, potentially fatal septic shock may occur; signs include low blood pressure, low body temperature, little urine output, and respiratory distress. Risk factors for septic abortion include poor surgical technique at the time of D&C, preexisting cervical/uterine infection.
Listeriosis is an infection that results from consuming contaminated food or water. Pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and adults with impaired immune systems are most at risk. "Early symptoms of listeria may include fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea," Dr. Dweck says. "Symptoms may occur a few days or even two months after eating contaminated food." If infection spreads to the nervous system, it can lead to headaches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions. Not all babies whose mothers are infected will have a problem, according to the American Pregnancy Association, but in some cases untreated listeriosis can result in miscarriage, premature delivery, serious infection in your newborn, or even stillbirth. An expectant mom can take antibiotics to help keep her baby safe.
To help prevent listeria, avoid:
- Hot dogs, lunch meats, or deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot
- Soft cheeses such as Brie or feta unless the label states that they are made from pasteurized milk
- Refrigerated p?t? or meat spreads (canned are okay)
- Smoked seafood unless it is an ingredient in a cooked dish such as a casserole
Fifth Disease (Parvovirus B19)
Fifth Disease is a common childhood illness, so many adults are already immune to it. "The most common symptom in adults is joint pain and soreness that can last for days or weeks," Dr. Dweck says. "Symptoms of facial rash, slight fever, and sore throat are most common in children." Although it's rare -- less than 5 percent of all pregnant women become infected with parvovirus B19, according to the CDC -- the virus can cause a woman to miscarry or her baby to be born with severe anemia. Call your health-care provider if you think you may have been in contact with a person infected with the virus.
Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.