Diseases & Conditions

Adolescent Pregnancy - Teenage Pregnancy

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Teenage pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs in an adolescent. An adolescent is a female who has reached puberty and is 19 years old or younger. Puberty is the stage of adolescence when a girl can sexually reproduce.

What is going on in the body?

A young woman can become pregnant even before her first menstrual cycle. Ovulation, release of an egg from the ovary, may occur before the first period. In the absence of birth control, the egg can become fertilized.

Penetration does not have to occur for a teenager to become pregnant. Sperm in the area of the external vulva can cause pregnancy. Teens need to understand a woman's body and how it functions before they become sexually active.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The ultimate cause of teenage pregnancy is unprotected intercourse. This results in fertilization of the egg by the sperm. Risk factors for teenage pregnancy include the following:

  • delinquency
  • depression
  • exposure to child abuse
  • high-risk behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol use, and drug abuse
  • limited job opportunities
  • low academic interest and achievement
  • poverty
  • previous unplanned teenage pregnancy
  • sexual abuse
  • single-parent homes
  • social isolation
  • stress
  • trouble in school or with the law

  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

    Symptoms of pregnancy include the following:

  • breast tenderness
  • drowsiness and moodiness
  • irregular vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • nausea
  • stomach cramping or bloating
  • vomiting
  • Many teenagers do not want to tell anyone about a pregnancy. Symptoms often go unnoticed by friends and family. The teenager with irregular periods may not even realize she is pregnant until late in the pregnancy.

    Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    The diagnosis of pregnancy begins with a medical history and physical exam. Any teenage woman with irregular or absent periods should have a serum pregnancy test. An early diagnosis of pregnancy helps the teenager to adjust emotionally and physically. Early prenatal care is essential.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    Programs that delay attempts at sexual intercourse are the first line of defense. Parents can have open, honest, and educational talks at home. Professionals can help parents obtain educational materials. They can also give advice to teenagers about how to prevent pregnancies.

    Prevention may include easy access to birth control. Emergency contraception may be discussed with all sexually active teenagers.

    What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    The long-term effects of teenage pregnancy are far reaching. Single motherhood is associated with the following:

  • additional unwanted pregnancies
  • child behavioral problems
  • continued poverty and welfare dependency
  • depression
  • exposure to domestic violence
  • limited job opportunities
  • low level of education
  • medical problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease
  • social isolation
  • substance abuse
  • It can be overwhelming when an infant is born prematurely. The needs of the infant may be too difficult for the teen to deal with.

    What are the risks to others?

    Infants born to teenage mothers are at higher risk of the following:

  • accidental injury and poisoning
  • behavior problems
  • complications of prematurity
  • developmental delays and learning disabilities
  • exposure to domestic violence
  • lack of immunization or vaccinations
  • minor acute infections
  • poverty
  • premature birth
  • sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS

  • Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    A pregnant teenager should be treated for sexually transmitted diseases as needed. Counseling about the signs of early labor should be given. An evaluation by a social worker during the pregnancy is advisable. This is done to determine the home environment in which the infant will live.

    The pregnancy may end in the following ways:

  • C-section
  • elective medical abortion
  • elective surgical abortion
  • miscarriage
  • vaginal delivery
  • Medications used during these procedures include the following:

  • anesthesia
  • antibiotics to prevent or treat infection
  • medications to prevent labor
  • medicines to start labor
  • pain medications
  • What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Abortion, miscarriage, and delivery can all cause bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to anesthesia. Medications used can cause stomach upset, rash, and allergic reactions.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    Birth control counseling can help prevent repeat teenage pregnancies. Abstinence, or not having sex, should also be discussed.

    How is the condition monitored?

    The health of mother and baby are monitored by regular visits to the healthcare provider. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the provider.


    Author:Eva Martin, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
    Edit Date:04/30/01
    Reviewer:Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
    Date Reviewed:03/28/01