Hesperian Health Guides

Common health problems

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HealthWiki > A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities > Chapter 10: Pregnancy > Common health problems


Bladder infections

a pregnant, disabled woman pushing on her lower belly while urinating.
If you usually push on your belly to make urine come out, it is still OK to do this while you are pregnant. You will not harm the baby.

During pregnancy, all women are more likely to get a bladder infection than at other times. As the womb grows larger, it presses against the bladder and may prevent all the urine from coming out. Germs can grow in the remaining urine and cause an infection.

Women with disabilities, such as limited muscle control, and paralysis or loss of feeling in the lower body, tend to have more problems than other women with leaking urine and infections of the bladder and kidneys. Bladder problems are a common cause of dysreflexia.

Women who use a “fixed” catheter may find that the urine stops coming out. This can happen if the expanding womb presses on the catheter and stops the urine flow. See a health worker.

If you can take care of a bladder infection right away, you may be able to prevent more serious problems, such as kidney infection and early labor. Watch carefully for signs of infection, and see a health worker if necessary.

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To prevent urine infections while you are pregnant:
  • drink plenty of water or fruit juices—at least 8 glasses a day.
  • keep your genitals clean.
  • pass urine after having sex.
  • always wash your hands before using a catheter.
  • clean your catheter more often.
One way to know if you are drinking enough liquid is to try to notice the color of your urine. If it is a dark yellow, you are probably not drinking enough. The urine should be light yellow, almost like water. Drinking lots of tea or coffee will not help because the caffeine in them will make you lose more fluid than you drink. See more information on bladder and kidney infections.

Seizures (convulsions, “fits,” epilepsy)

It is hard to say whether a woman who has epilepsy will have more or fewer seizures while she is pregnant. If you are someone who gets seizures, you will know best how often you get them and how severe they are. Some antiseizure medicines, especially phenytoin (diphenylhydantoin, Dilantin), may increase the risk of birth defects when taken by a pregnant woman. But do not stop taking anti-seizure medicines while you are pregnant.
a pregnant woman lying on the floor, shaking.
This can make seizures worse and may even kill you. Talk with an experienced health worker or doctor who understands epilepsy and can help you decide about the best medicine to take. Phenobarbital (phenobarbitone, Luminal) is probably the safest anti-seizure medicine to take during pregnancy.

Toxemia of pregnancy (pre-eclampsia)

Some swelling in the legs and ankles is normal in pregnancy. But swelling of the hands and face can be a sign of pre-eclampsia (also called toxemia of pregnancy), especially if you also have headaches, blurred vision, or pains in your belly. Sudden weight gain, high blood pressure, and a lot of protein in the urine are also signs of toxemia.
a woman with swollen face and hands; she wears a hearing aid.
Toxemia can cause convulsions (seizures or ‘fits’), and both you and the baby can die. Convulsions are different from the seizures caused by epilepsy.

You may be at risk of toxemia if you or your mother or sisters have had it, or if it is your first pregnancy, or you are pregnant for the first time by a new partner. Toxemia is also more common for women who have high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney problems, for severe headaches, for women over 35, and for women expecting more than one baby.

If you have any signs of toxemia, go to a midwife or healthworker who can test you to see if you are in danger.

What to do:
  • Stay quiet and in bed. Eat good, nutritious foods, especially foods rich in protein, but with only a little salt. Avoid salty foods.
  • If you do not get better quickly, or if you have trouble seeing, or the swelling increases in your face, or if you have a seizure, get medical help fast. Your life is in danger.

Pressure sores (bed sores)

Women who sit or lie down most of the time can develop pressure sores easily if too much time passes without moving or changing position. This is especially true for women who are paralyzed and cannot feel pain. When you are pregnant, the extra weight puts even more pressure on the body parts where sores are the most likely to develop.

What to do:

Try to move or change your position more often than usual—at least once every hour. Check your skin
over the pressure-sore areas more often than before you were pregnant.