Cocaine Health Risks: Effects on Pregnancy

Pregnant Woman

In addition to the harm that cocaine can create for the average drug user, cocaine presents serious risks to a pregnant woman. A pregnant woman who uses cocaine can experience episodes of dangerous high blood pressure, so severe that it can cause heart failure, bleeding in the brain or the accumulation of fluid in the lungs. A hypertensive crisis of high blood pressure can result in the pregnancy-related condition known as eclampsia. Women suffering from eclampsia experience headaches, blurred vision, abdominal pain and seizures. Eclampsia can be fatal for the pregnant woman if not treated in time and may require premature delivery of the baby.

Cocaine can cause changes in a placenta that can result in hemorrhage and death for both the mother and the baby. Placental abruption or a separation of the placenta from the uterus may occur. This can result in uncontrollable bleeding that kills both the mother and child. Spontaneous abortion is another possibility. One study found that 38% of pregnant women who used cocaine lost their babies.

Cocaine Restricts Blood Flow that is Vital to Fetal Health


A pregnant woman who uses cocaine experiences a constriction of the blood vessels throughout her body. A fetus needs this blood flow for its oxygen supply. After cocaine abuse, the heart rate of the fetus goes up along with the blood pressure, but it may suffer a lack of oxygen (hypoxia). Hypoxia can cause organ failure in the fetus, premature birth and death.

This restricted blood supply can also permanently damage sections of the placenta which can result in loss of the baby.

A study in Boston showed that pregnant cocaine-users had a one-in-three chance of a premature birth, whereas the usual risk was one in eight.

The avoidance of any stimulants is important during pregnancy. Given the intensity of cocaine as a stimulant, it is vital for a woman who is or may become pregnant to avoid the use of cocaine or any stimulating drug.


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