The good news is that preeclampsia – a condition in which a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine – is pretty rare. Only about 5% of all pregnancies become preeclamptic.
The bad news is that the condition can be severe when left unchecked. If preeclampsia goes untreated, it can lead to seizures, convulsions, coma, and maternal and/or fetal death due to toxins in the bloodstream and placenta. For this reason, the condition was often called “toxemia.” Preeclampsia advances rapidly, a precursor to full-blown eclampsia, which is why early detection is key to getting the medical help you need.
Some symptoms, like vision loss or extreme headaches, are easily recognizable. Still, others, like high blood pressure or elevated protein levels in the urine, require a healthcare practitioner to check out. Globally, preeclampsia is the leading cause of maternal and infant death, so keep reading to learn to pay careful attention to what your pregnant body is telling you.
Know the Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia
Typically, it does not set in until after week 20 or your fifth month of pregnancy. It doesn’t help that many of the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia involve the same types of discomforts associated with pregnancy in general. Thus, never hesitate to call your healthcare provider if you feel something is amiss.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms you would notice include:
- Headaches – often described as migraines that don’t go away.
- Nausea or vomiting
- Swelling beyond the norm – called edema. Your feet and ankles will often swell a little during the latter stages of pregnancy. However, any excessive swelling – or swelling that spreads to the face, around the eyes, and hands – deserves special attention.
- Shortness of breath or unusual feelings of anxiety
- Vision changes
- Sudden weight gain – more than 2 pounds in a week
Then some symptoms will only be detected by a healthcare provider. These include:
- High blood pressure
- Elevated protein levels in your urine
- Hyperreflexia (when the doctor taps your knee, it will “super jerk” in response)
This is one of the many reasons routine prenatal care is critical from the beginning of your pregnancy. Those monthly doctor visits, which become bi-weekly and then weekly towards the latter stage of pregnancy, are instrumental in keeping track of your body and its normal pregnancy changes and side effects, so anything out of the ordinary is more easily noticed.
Unfortunately, preeclampsia is not something that can be cured. Delivery is the only way to stop it. If you aren’t full-term, your doctor will put you on immediate bed rest, and hospitalization may be required. Medications to lower your blood pressure and corticosteroids may also be prescribed. Suppose you are close enough to your due date. In that case, most doctors will want to induce labor immediately, and you will be closely monitored during the postpartum period to ensure your blood pressure returns to normal.
What Causes Preeclampsia?
Unfortunately, preeclampsia is often a mystery, and doctors aren’t always sure what causes it. We know that a healthy pregnancy diet, regular moderate exercise, and prenatal care are all factors that reduce a woman’s chances of getting preeclampsia.
That being said, there are certain risk factors associated with the condition:
- First pregnancies.
- A personal or family history of preeclampsia.
- Age (mothers 40 years and older are at higher risk).
- Different fathers – women are at higher risk with babies born to different fathers than with multiple pregnancies by the same father.
- Twins or higher-multiples pregnancy
- Intervals between pregnancies. Mothers with babies less than two years apart, or more than ten years apart, are at higher risk.
- Pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, lupus, high blood pressure, blood clots, etc.
Call a healthcare professional to check in if you suspect that you or a pregnant friend or relative is showing signs of preeclampsia. A simple visit to the ER or doctor’s office will determine whether or not further action should be taken.
Contact Overlake OB/GYN to learn more or to schedule prenatal appointments with a caring staff of pregnancy, labor, and delivery professionals. We’ll keep an eye on every aspect of your pregnancy.