Preeclampsia: Not What You Expect When You’re Expecting

Preeclampsia - Fernandez Hospital

For mums-to-be, the unexpected in moments changes the course of otherwise normal pregnancies. Preeclampsia is one such unexpected condition. It is a type of high blood pressure women get after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth. It affects both you and your unborn baby. At least 5-8% of all the pregnancies are affected and it progresses rapidly.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a multisystem disorder of unknown causes. It is characterized by the development of hypertension to the extent of 140/90 mmHg or more with the presence of protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy in a woman with no previous history of the same. 

How would you know if you’re at risk for preeclampsia?

Despite the cause of the condition being not yet known, there are several risk factors that have been detected. You are at risk of developing the condition if you:

  • Are a first-time mum
  • Have had previous experience with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia
  • Have sisters or a mother who had preeclampsia
  • Are pregnant with twins, triplets, or more
  • Are aged below 20 or older than 40 years
  • Had problems of high blood pressure or kidney diseases before getting pregnant
  • Are obese
  • Low platelet count on a complete blood count

What are the commonly experienced symptoms of preeclampsia?

The symptoms you experience with preeclampsia can be classified as mild and severe depending on the seriousness of your condition.

If you have mild preeclampsia you will experience the following symptoms:

  • High blood pressure
  • Water retention (mild swelling in the ankles)
  • Presence of protein in your urine

 If you have severe preeclampsia, however, you will experience symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty in tolerating bright light
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea/ Vomiting
  • Small amounts of urine
  • Pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bruising easily

How would you get to know if you have preeclampsia?

When you go for your prenatal checkups your doctor will check your blood pressure and the level of protein in your urine at each visit. Your doctor will also monitor your baby’s health with the help of:

Blood pressure monitoring: Consistent monitoring of blood pressure is very important while making a diagnosis. An absolute rise of blood pressure over 140/90 mmHg is indicative of preeclampsia.

Urine analysis: The presence of proteins in your urine along with hypertension is an indication of preeclampsia.

An ultrasound: It is a test which uses sound waves and a computer to create images of your baby in your womb. It checks if your baby is growing at a normal pace. Ultrasound also helps your doctor have a better look at your placenta to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Your doctor may also ask you to take a series of blood tests.

What is the ideal treatment for preeclampsia?

The treatment of this condition depends on mainly how close you are to your due date. If you’re nearing your due date and your baby is healthy enough, your doctor will want to deliver your baby at the earliest. Women with mild preeclampsia after 37 weeks of pregnancy don’t usually have any major health issues.

If you’re suffering from mild preeclampsia and your little one hasn’t developed completely your doctor will mostly ask you to:

  • Take enough rest. This involves lying on your left side to take the weight of your baby off major blood vessels
  • Have regular prenatal checkups
  • Decrease your consumption of salt
  • Modify your diet to include more protein in it
  • Daily blood pressure monitoring

With severe preeclampsia, however, your doctor will admit and treat you with medicines for blood pressure up until the time you’re far enough to deliver safely. Along with this a good amount of bed rest, dietary modifications, and supplements are also essential.

How will preeclampsia affect your health?

Preeclampsia if not treated timely has the potential to cause serious complications for you. These may involve liver or kidney failure and possible cardiac problems. It can also put you at risk for life-threatening conditions like:

Eclampsia:

The word ‘eclampsia’ is derived from a Greek word meaning, ‘like a flash of lightning’. It is commonly preceded by features of severe preeclampsia. Preeclampsia, when complicated by seizures and/or coma, is called eclampsia. The prevention of this condition rests solely on the early detection and effective treatment of preeclampsia. However, eclampsia can occur bypassing the preeclamptic state and is not always a preventable condition.

The hospital incidence of the condition in India ranges from 1 in 500 to 1 in 30.

HELLP Syndrome:

Haemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, Low Platelet count commonly known as HELLP Syndrome is a condition that can be seen late in your pregnancy. It affects the breakdown of your red blood cells, how your blood clots, and your liver function.

How will preeclampsia affect your baby’s health?

The condition can create problems for the placenta in receiving enough blood. If the placenta doesn’t receive the right amount of blood supply your baby will not get enough food and oxygen. Due to this, your baby may have a low birth weight. However, most women can give birth to a healthy child if the condition is diagnosed early and treated appropriately.

What can you do to prevent preeclampsia?

Unfortunately, there is no definite way of preventing preeclampsia yet. Factors that contribute to high blood pressure can sometimes be controlled and sometimes can’t. It is best if you stick to the instructions your doctor gives you at all times. This could involve simple things such as changes in diet and exercise:

  • Consume foods with little to no salts
  • Drink the right amount of water (6-8 glasses a day)
  • Avoid eating fried foods and street foods
  • Take a good amount of rest
  • Exercise daily
  • Keep your feet at an elevated level several times daily
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Try to avoid beverages that contain caffeine
  • Take your prescribed medicines and all the other supplements needed
  • Scan at 12 weeks to check for the risk of developing preeclampsia, if seen your doctor may start you on low dose aspirin


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