Pregnancy and Your Immune System

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There are plenty of things women are taught to expect during pregnancy; things like weight gain, emotional turbulence, morning sickness, etc. Often, however, patients are surprised to learn that along with their expected symptoms they may find themselves dealing with something completely unexpected – a deeply suppressed immune system.

What does that mean? Well it’s common courtesy not to get too close to a pregnant woman if you’re sick, but it’s important for more than just decorum. During pregnancy, many women find their immune systems suppressed much more than they thought possible. It’s not uncommon for a woman to spend months of her pregnancy catching every little cold and flu that is going around. This is especially true for the first trimester of pregnancy, the time when morning sickness already has plenty of women feeling terrible.

During this time, it’s not just about keeping sick people away from the mother-to-be. Often times, just like in old horror movies, the bigger threats come from inside. It’s not unheard of for diseases that the mother to be has successfully fought off in her past to pop back up out of nowhere!

For example, we have had more than one patient come in complaining about a rash that she can’t explain and has no idea how she got. Sometimes these can be things like the chicken pox virus that the patient had fought off in childhood making a reappearance. This is not a reinfection that happens because the patient was exposed to the virus again, it’s just that the immune system is weaker during pregnancy and it has allowed some of the signs of the virus to manifest where they normally would be kept at bay.

This tendency for the immune system to allow old viruses to manifest has caused more than one scare when the mother-to-be comes in complaining of symptoms only to be told she is experiencing the effects of some sort of sexually transmitted infection. This does not mean that her partner has infected her or even that she herself has been newly infected. In many cases, the woman was infected with a virus several years (sometimes even decades) earlier and was either asymptomatic or fought it off quickly with minimal symptoms that she mistook for a common urinary tract or yeast infection. Now that she is pregnant and her immune system is suppressed to help prevent the body from rejecting the fetus, those viruses are able to finally have a chance to show symptoms!

If you are an expectant mother with symptoms that you can’t explain, please come in and see us here at New Britain OB/Gyn! It may be nothing serious, or it may be something that requires medical intervention. It’s always better to be cautious in these situations. It may not be what you expect, but it is one of the realities of pregnancy – and one we should talk about more often!

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