What are Early Symptoms of Pregnancy: Physical and Physiological Changes | Max Hospital

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What are Early Symptoms of Pregnancy: Physical and Physiological Changes

By Dr. Manju Wali in Obstetrics And Gynaecology

Jul 01 , 2024 | 2 min read

Pregnancy is a complex physiological state characterised by significant changes in the body to support fetal development. The symptoms of pregnancy vary widely and even between different pregnancies in the same individual. 

Early Symptoms of Pregnancy

  • Missed Menstrual Period (amenorrhea): The most common and often the first sign of pregnancy is a missed period. Amenorrhea in the sexually active reproductive age is a strong indicator of pregnancy, although it can also result from stress, hormonal imbalances, or other medical conditions. 
  • Nausea and vomiting (morning sickness): Morning sickness affects approximately 70-80% of pregnant individuals and typically begins between the 4th and 6th weeks of pregnancy. Nausea and vomiting may occur at any time of the day, despite its name. The cause is not fully understood but is considered to be related to rising levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and estrogen. 
  • Breast changes: Hormonal changes cause the breasts to become tender, swollen, and more sensitive. The Montgomery glands are sebaceous glands in the areola and may become more prominent. Additionally, the areola may darken and increase in diameter.
  • Fatigue: Increased progesterone levels can cause extreme tiredness and fatigue early in pregnancy. Additionally, progesterone has a sedative effect, and the body's increased energy requirements to support the growing fetus also contribute to this symptom.
  • Frequent urination: From around the sixth to the eighth week of pregnancy, individuals may experience increased urinary frequency. It can happen because of hormonal changes that increase blood flow to the kidneys and the growing uterus pressing on the bladder.
  • Food cravings and aversions: Many pregnant individuals experience changes in their sense of taste and smell, leading to food cravings and aversions. These changes are thought to be influenced by hormonal shifts and can vary significantly between individuals.

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Physical and Physiological Changes

  • Increased Basal Body Temperature: A sustained increase in basal body temperature (BBT) is often noted during pregnancy. This rise is due to elevated progesterone levels following ovulation and continues if pregnancy occurs.
  • Mood Swings: Hormonal fluctuations lead to mood swings and increased emotional sensitivity. Pregnant individuals may experience heightened emotions, including joy, irritability, and anxiety.
  • Bloating and Constipation: Hormonal changes slow the digestive system, leading to bloating and constipation. Progesterone relaxes smooth muscle, including the gastrointestinal tract, which can slow peristalsis and lead to these symptoms.
  • Heartburn and Indigestion: Relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter due to progesterone can cause gastric acid to enter the esophagus, leading to heartburn and indigestion. This symptom often worsens as the pregnancy progresses and the growing uterus presses on the stomach.

Later Symptoms of Pregnancy

  • Weight gain: Gaining weight is normal and expected, with the amount varying depending on the woman's pre-pregnancy weight and overall health. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has guidelines for appropriate weight gain based on body mass index (BMI).
  • Swelling (oedema): Swelling in the ankles, feet, and hands is common due to increased blood volume and pressure from the growing uterus on veins, which slows the return of blood from the lower body.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions: These are irregular, painless contractions that can occur in the second or third trimester. They are often described as the body's way of preparing for actual labour, although they do not indicate the onset of labour.

The symptoms of pregnancy are diverse and can vary widely among individuals. Understanding such symptoms can help in early detection and management of pregnancy, ensuring better health outcomes for both the mother and the fetus.