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Pregnancy: An Overview- Early Signs and Symptoms 

Introduction
Pregnancy occurs when a male sperm cell fertilizes a female’s egg and it implants in the uterine lining.  Pregnancy may result from sexual intercourse or assistive reproductive medicine methods.  It is important for women to receive prenatal care when they are considering becoming pregnant or as soon as they learn they are pregnant.  The most important thing you can do is take good care of yourself to ensure that your baby will be healthy.

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Anatomy
The internal female reproductive system includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and vagina.  The ovaries are two small organs that produce eggs (ova) and hormones.  One of the ovaries typically releases one mature egg each month in a process called ovulation.  Two fallopian tubes extend from near the ovaries to the uterus.  The fallopian tubes transport the mature eggs to the uterus (womb).  A sperm cell from a male may enter the fallopian tube from sexual intercourse.  The fertilized egg travels to the uterus and implants into the uterine lining.
 
The fertilized egg develops a placenta to receive nourishment from the mother and an embryonic sac that surrounds the embryo.  The embryo develops vital organ systems and grows into a fetus.  The fetus continues to develop and increase in size.  After about nine months, the baby enters the world through vaginal birth or cesarean section.

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Causes
Pregnancy results when a male sperm cell fertilizes a female egg and implants in the uterine lining.  Pregnancy may result from sexual intercourse or by assistive reproductive methods, such as in vitro fertilization.  Females may become pregnant soon after they start menstruating until menopause.  Pregnancy becomes increasingly difficult the closer a woman is to menopause.

Ovulation typically occurs about 10 days before the start of a woman’s menstrual period.  However, ovulation may occur at any time during the month.  A woman can even get pregnant during her period.  It is also possible for pregnancy to occur if penetration does not take place, but sperm cells are near the vaginal opening.

Women who are planning on becoming pregnant should visit their doctor for a prenatal checkup.  It is important to start prenatal vitamins before pregnancy takes place and have your doctor evaluate the medications that you are on.  Some medications may interfere with a healthy pregnancy and a substitute medication may be used.  Your doctor may also make recommendations to help ensure a healthy pregnancy.

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Symptoms
An obvious symptom of early pregnancy is a missed period.  However, some pregnant women spot or have what seems to be a light period when their period should have taken place.  Some women do not experience early symptoms of pregnancy and others may experience some or all symptoms to varying degrees. 

Early symptoms of pregnancy may include frequent urination, feeling tired, and feeling sleepy.  You may feel nauseous with or without vomiting or increased saliva.  You may experience heartburn, indigestion, gas, constipation, and bloating.  You may crave certain foods and avoid other types of foods.  Your breasts may feel fuller or tender.  Your emotions may fluctuate.  You may be more irritable, irrational, or tearful.

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Diagnosis
You may visit your doctor’s office for a pregnancy test or use an over-the-counter pregnancy test.  Some over-the-counter pregnancy tests may be used on the first day of a missed period.  If you have a positive pregnancy test, you should contact your doctor. 

Your doctor will confirm your pregnancy and evaluate you for any potential problems that may need monitoring.  You should let your doctor know what prescription medication you take and your medical history.  Your doctor will prescribe prenatal vitamins and can recommend a healthy eating and activity level for you during pregnancy.  Your doctor will determine a schedule for follow-up appointments as your pregnancy progresses.

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Treatment
It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations during your pregnancy and do everything you can to ensure your health and the health of your baby.  It is important to eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water.  Your doctor can make specific dietary and exercise recommendations.  It is important to stop smoking and stop using alcohol or illegal drugs.  These substances can cause serious problems for your developing baby.

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Prevention
The only way to guarantee that pregnancy will not take place is with abstinence, not having sexual intercourse.  Pregnancy may be prevented with contraception or birth control. 

If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, prenatal care is very important to ensure a healthy pregnancy.  Make and attend all of your doctor appointments and follow your doctor’s recommendations.

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Am I at Risk

Girls that have gotten their periods and women that are menstruating but have not reached menopause may become pregnant by sexual intercourse or assisted reproductive methods.  Contraception or birth control can help to prevent pregnancy during sexual intercourse, but it is not a guarantee that pregnancy will not take place.

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Complications
Most pregnancies end with the birth of a healthy baby.  However, pregnancy complications may cause miscarriage or death of a baby before it is born.  Complications may also jeopardize the health of the mother or developing baby at any time during a pregnancy.  It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations and attend all of your appointments to reduce your risk of complications.  Not all pregnancy complications, such as those caused by genetics, may be avoided, even with your best intentions. 

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Advancements
Advancements in assistive reproductive medicine have allowed many women to become pregnant that otherwise may not have.  If you have not become pregnant after a year of trying or suspect that you may have a problem getting pregnant, a reproductive endocrinologist may help identify the problem and recommend assistive reproduction methods.  Your partner may be evaluated as well for sperm-related problems.  Further, egg or sperm donation may be an option for some people.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.