Pregnancy and the Nervous System

Pregnancy and the Nervous System

What is the nervous system?

The nervous system is a complex system that regulates and coordinates body activities. It is made up of 2 major divisions:

  • Central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)

  • Peripheral nervous system (the part of the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord)

In addition to the brain and spinal cord, organs of the nervous system include:

  • Eyes

  • Ears

  • Sensory organs of taste

  • Sensory organs of smell

  • Sensory receptors located in the skin, joints, muscles, and other parts of the body

What are some disorders of the nervous system?

Disorders of the nervous system may involve the following:

  • Vascular disorders such as stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), and bleeding in or around the brain 

  • Infections such as meningitis, encephalitis, polio, and epidural abscess

  • Structural disorders such as brain or spinal cord injury, Bell’s palsy, cervical spondylosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, brain or spinal cord tumors, peripheral neuropathy, and Guillain-Barré syndrome

  • Functional disorders such as headache, epilepsy, dizziness, and neuralgia

  • Degeneration such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s chorea, and Alzheimer’s disease

What are some neurologic conditions that may be seen in pregnant women?

The most common conditions in pregnancy include the following:

  • Migraine headache

  • Epilepsy/seizures

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Stroke

  • Sciatica

Some neurologic diseases have little or no effect on pregnancy, while others can greatly increase the risks for pregnancy complications and maternal and fetal illness. Likewise, pregnancy can affect some neurologic conditions, but not others. Pregnancy-related complications of elevated blood pressure and fluid retention (pre-eclampsia and the more serious eclampsia) may cause neurological problems.

Care of pregnant women with neurologic conditions often involves a team of healthcare providers. Women can increase their chances for a healthy pregnancy by getting early and regular prenatal care and working with their healthcare providers in the management of their disease.