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Stomach Bug While Pregnant: Everything You Need To Know

Updated on July 20, 2016
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Trained in dentistry, Sree is currently pursuing lab sciences. She loves researching and sharing information on various health topics.

Stomach pain is among the most common complaints in pregnancy. A woman is more than likely going to experience this at least once on the course of a pregnancy, and it can mean all kinds of different things.

Determining the root cause of the stomach pain should start with a close examination of the patient's personal history. Note that there is also a wide range of physical and physiologic factors behind the condition. For starters, you need to establish if the patient is dealing with stomach bug while pregnant, or whether the stomach pain is caused by something else entirely. Everything you need to know about stomach pains caused by stomach bug will be presented right here.

Stomach Bug While Pregnant: Everything You Need To Know
Stomach Bug While Pregnant: Everything You Need To Know | Source

Stomach Bug While Pregnant: The culprit

To understand pain and discomfort during pregnancy, you need to know about stomach bugs in general. There is a range of viruses that cause stomach pain during pregnancy. The most common cause of stomach flu in adults is a virus is the Norovirus. This is very different in cases involving children, where viral stomach flu is mainly caused by the Rotavirus. Other stomach "bugs" of viral origin include the Adenovirus and the Astrovirus. However, since a large majority of the cases involves the Norovirus, the discussion in this article will mainly focus here.

What you need to know about a Norovirus infection
The Norovirus is highly contagious; it is capable of spreading quickly especially in crowded places. In fact, it is not uncommon to observe outbreaks of the stomach bug in a particular area. Multiple people can get sick after being on the same place or partaking of the same meal. This virus is mainly spread via the fecal-oral route.

Basically, virus found in the feces of an infected person can enter another host by finding its way into the host's mouth. You can commonly get the virus by touching surfaces contaminated by feces or by food prepared using unsanitary techniques. The Norovirus can live for days in surfaces such as floorings and laundry.

One of the most notable things about the viral stomach bug is that it is considered self-limiting. It means that such infections subside even without treatment. The Norovirus is usually eliminated from our system about 2 to 3 days after the onset of stomach pain. With this in mind, the most critical complication it can cause to both pregnant and non-pregnant patients is dehydration. Dehydration is a serious concern if you are experiencing diarrhea and/or vomiting. Remember that the human body is made up of 60-70% water and water is needed for various bodily functions. In addition to fluid loss, you also have to watch out for electrolyte loss, as that causes different health complications of its own, including chemical imbalances.

Management techniques for the stomach bug and How to prevent it
Management techniques for the stomach bug and How to prevent it | Source

Management techniques for the stomach bug

So how will you manage stomach bug while pregnant? Your main defense against its complications will be replenishment which comprises rest and rehydration, as well as intake of electrolyte drinks. There are many ways to deal with the discomfort caused by the stomach bug, including getting enough rest, eating something warm, and using warm compress.

Also, proper care and precaution must be taken when rehydrating. While water helps in replacing lost fluids, it helps very little in dealing with glucose or electrolyte loss. Glucose loss is dealt with by eating or drinking something that contains sugar. For electrolyte loss, the most recommended management is giving specially-made electrolyte solutions. In severe cases of dehydration, intravenous fluids may be administered to deal with severe losses.

How to prevent the stomach bug
The best way to deal with the stomach bug is prevention. The most effective preventive method out there is regular hand washing. It is important that you make it a habit to wash your hands with a disinfecting soap before eating, preparing, or handling food. Also, cleaning your kitchen with disinfecting solution or bleach after preparing food will greatly help in preventing different kinds of food-borne infections, including Norovirus. Last but not least, make sure that when eating outside, you only eat food that is properly prepared. Sanitation levels in eating facilities should also be at least on an acceptable level.

Tip!

While water is sufficient for dealing with pure fluid loss, it is not as effective in dealing with electrolyte loss. Even sports drinks are also not very effective in dealing with moderate or severe electrolyte loss. We highly recommend that you use oral electrolyte solutions, as dehydration can potentially have adverse effects to both mother and child.

Other causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy

In a non-pregnant person, stomach pain can be caused by different things. All these causative agents can potentially affect pregnant women as well. There are also factors unique to pregnancy that may cause pain in the abdominal area. Knowing these different causes will give you an idea on how you can proceed with management. For your reference, here are some of the other potential causes of abdominal pain in pregnant women.

  1. Normal uterine growth: Your uterus naturally expands as your pregnancy advances. This can put pressure in a number of organs in the abdomen, most notably the gastrointestinal tract. As your bowel gets displaced by the rapidly expanding uterus, you can experience symptoms such as abdominal distention, nausea, and a sense of feeling full easily. While you cannot do anything much about it as it's a normal phenomenon observed during pregnancy, you can make it more bearable through various management techniques. Eating smaller meals, regular exercise, regular urination to empty the bladder, and getting enough rest can all help in dealing with the pains caused by uterine growth.
  2. Round ligament pain: This pair of ligaments helps in keeping the uterus in place. As the uterus enlarges during pregnancy, these ligaments get stretched, causing pain. This type of pain is most commonly felt at the lower abdomen that radiates towards the groin. This pain can be sharp and may be worsened by movements. Round ligament pain is most commonly observed during the second week of pregnancy. This pain is usually self-limiting, but you should consult your doctor if the pain is either persistent or unbearable. The usual treatment given for this type of pain is a pregnancy-friendly anti-pain drug such as acetaminophen.
  3. Constipation: This is one of the most common complaints during pregnancy. This is mainly caused by the increased levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy. One of the effects of progesterone is it slows the movement of the gastrointestinal tract. This causes food to stay within your gut longer, which causes the development of gas and distention, which will then cause pain. The best way to deal with pregnancy-related constipation is to drink more water and eat fiber-rich food. Fiber supplements or stool softeners may be prescribed by your doctor if the constipation persists.
  4. Braxton-Hicks contractions: Considered as "practice contractions", these are benign uterine contractions most commonly observed during the third trimester of pregnancy. While such contractions may cause concern, these are perfectly normal. However, for your full safety, you must differentiate it from the contractions of labor, premature or otherwise. True uterine contractions are often very strong and occur in close succession. Ways to manage Braxton-Hicks contractions include relaxation and drinking of fluids, as dehydration can worsen them. Consult your doctor immediately if contractions continue to persist, interferes with daily activity, or are suspected to be contractions of labor.
  5. Bacterial infections: In contrast with viral gastroenteritis, stomach bugs caused by bacteria are considered as a big cause of concern. These infections do not usually subside on their own and tend to have more dangerous complications if left untreated. The kind of symptoms observed depends on the bacteria causing the infection. Examples of bacteria that cause gastrointestinal infections include Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, E. coli, and Shigella. The treatment plan depends on the kind of bacteria causing the infection. Antimicrobials must be used with care as some of them can have adverse effects in pregnancy. As usual, preventing dehydration and electrolyte loss are crucial.
  6. Ectopic pregnancy: An ectopic pregnancy is a case wherein the fertilized egg implants in a site other than the uterus. It is usually diagnosed from the 6th to the 10th week of pregnancy, causing both intense pain and bleeding. Risk factors that predispose women to such cases include the use of intrauterine devices, a history of previous ectopic pregnancies, endometriosis, and structural abnormalities of the uterus. This is considered as a medical emergency because such pregnancies can cause severe damage to the pregnant woman's body. While some cases resolve by itself, the pregnancy might have to be terminated either pharmacologically or surgically especially if it poses a threat to the mother's long-term well-being.
  7. Miscarriage: A miscarriage can manifest itself as abdominal pain. It can occur at virtually all stages of pregnancy, though it is most commonly observed during the first semester. Abdominal pain caused by a miscarriage is often accompanied by bleeding and rhythmic cramping that resembles menstrual cramps. Treatment of miscarriage is mainly focused on preventing complications to the mother. Tissues associated with pregnancy must be cleared out thru dilation and curettage as such tissues can cause infections and other complications. After a miscarriage, it is mandatory that the patient undergo tests to determine potential problems such as hormone imbalance and chromosomal abnormalities.
  8. Placental abruption: This is one of the most dangerous complications in pregnancy. A placental abruption happens when the placenta, the main source of nourishment for the growing fetus, separates from the uterine wall. This separation causes pain in the lower abdomen described as severe, constant, and progressively worsening. Hardening of the uterus is also observed, and bleeding without clots is also observed. When abruption is described as mild, the pregnancy may be continued or delivery is induced if the pregnancy is already at term. In severe cases, emergency delivery by caesarian section is recommended, regardless of the gestational age of the fetus.

Common causes of Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy
Common causes of Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy | Source
Cause
Description
Complications
Management
Viral Infection
Gastrointestinal infection mainly caused by Norovirus
This may cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance if accompanied by vomiting and/or diarrhea
Self-limiting infection, treatment is mostly supportive to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
Bacterial Infection
Gastrointestinal Infection caused by different kinds of bacteria
Complications depend on the type of infection. Common complications include GI bleeding and diarrhea
Supportive treatment to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, elimination of infectious agent
Uterine Contractions
Mostly normal contractions "Braxton Hicks" but may also indicate premature labor in some cases
These are normal and usually subside after a short while. However, one must rule out labor (premature or otherwise)
If normal contractions, rest and conservative management is sufficient. Otherwise, labor induction may be an option
Constipation
Slowing of bowel movement due to hormonal effects
Prolonged constipation can cause major discomfort
Increased fluid intacke, dietary fiber consumption
Uterine Growth
Uterine growth can cause compression of abdominal organs or pulling of ligaments
Pains caused by uterine growth are usually normal as long as you rule out pain from other causes
Pain management
Ectopic Pregnancy
A pregnancy wherein the fetus implants at place other than the uterus
Ruptured ectopic pregnancy causing damage to internal organs and massive bleeding
Observation if pregnancy can continue. In emergencies, surgery and abortion of pregnancy is needed
Placental Abruption
The separation of the placenta from the uterus
Internal bleeding, hypovolemic shock, premature birth, stillbirth
In mild cases, pregnancy must be observed. In advanced cases, labor must be induced

Conclusion

A stomach bug while pregnant is a relatively common occurrence. With proper management, it should not cause any complications that may cause harm to both mother and child. However, you should also be wary of other conditions that may cause abdominal pain, as they can point towards conditions that can either cause health problems or pregnancy issues.

Quiz Time!

What does NOT characterize a viral stomach bug in pregnancy?

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