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Severe pregnancy symptoms to watch out for

Which pregnancy symptoms should you talk to your midwife or GP about? This article looks at problems in pregnancy and the symptoms you should watch out for.

Being pregnant brings with it a large number of experiences and symptoms that can feel unusual. For the most part, they are completely normal. However, you should be aware of some of the more severe pregnancy symptoms that mean you need to contact your midwife or GP.

In certain circumstances these can include abdominal pain, bleeding, headaches, leg discomfort and breathlessness.

Abdominal pain in pregnancy

Abdominal pain can be caused by trapped wind, indigestion, heartburn or ligament strain. If you also experience:

  • severe pain in the upper right abdomen, especially if you also have headache or swelling and/or
  • bleeding, with or without tight feeling abdomen,

you should contact your midwife.

Bleeding when you are pregnant

Bleeding can occur:

  • early on when you are pregnant; around the time you would have had a period (usually this is slight)
  • after sex if there is a sensitive or sore spot on the neck of your uterus (cervix)
  • with urine or kidney infections
  • with a placental abruption, which is when the membranes around the baby become slightly separated from the wall of the uterus
  • with a show or
  • with placenta praevia (a low lying placenta) at the onset of labour.

Always consult a midwife or GP about bleeding. Before 37 weeks, bleeding can indicate risk of miscarriage, haemorrhage or premature labour.

Headaches when you are pregnant

Headaches have a large number of causes including dilated blood vessels, stress and dehydration. But if you have a headache accompanied by:

  • generalised swelling, particularly if this has started suddenly
  • flashing lights in your eyes or
  • if you know your blood pressure has been increasing,

you should call your midwife straight away.

Pain in the legs

Leg discomfort can result from swelling, trapped nerves, cramp, or varicose veins. Call your midwife if there is redness, swelling and heat in one calf, and there is pain on bending the foot on that side.


Breathlessness can result from extra weight to carry, or from anaemia. Call your midwife if onset is sudden, and accompanied with chest pain.

If you have any worries about new symptoms when you are pregnant, it is best to talk to your midwife or GP.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all aspects of being pregnant, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

NHS choices provides an A-Z of common health problems.