As an expecting mum, you may not want to think about preeclampsia, premature birth, placental abruption, or any of the other things that could go wrong!
While we don’t want you to dwell on the ‘what if’s’ and negative thoughts, at CaptainMums, we want to help you recognise the symptoms of various pregnancy conditions and be prepared for any difficulty that could arise. That’s why you should keep reading to learn everything you need to know about preeclampsia, including what causes it, how to recognise it, and how it can be treated.
What is preeclampsia and what causes it?
Preeclampsia is a medical condition that affects many women during pregnancy. It causes high blood pressure and excess levels of protein in urine. This makes the placenta unable to do its job of efficiently sending nutrients and oxygen to the baby, which can lead to many different complications like slow development or even placental abruption.
Doctors aren’t completely sure what causes preeclampsia, but they do know that it is partly genetic. Some people are simply more susceptible to it because of their genes. Anything else that causes insufficient blood to flow to the uterus could lead to preeclampsia as well, such as a high body fat percentage or even poor nutrition.
Additionally, there are several medical conditions and personal factors that can make you more likely to develop preeclampsia. You are at the highest risk for preeclampsia if you:
- Have had preeclampsia before in a previous pregnancy
- Have a mother or sister who had preeclampsia
- Are pregnant with twins or multiples
- Have high blood pressure under normal conditions, outside of pregnancy
- Are obese, or even have been obese in the past
- Have diabetes
- Suffer from kidney disease
- Have lupus
- Suffer from rheumatoid arthritis
However, if any of these risk factors apply to you, don’t assume that you will have a life-threatening case of preeclampsia. You may not have it at all, although it does affect nearly 1 in every 20 pregnancies. The majority of cases, though, are mild and treatable and occur late enough in the pregnancy that they don’t significantly harm the health of the mother or the baby.
Symptoms of preeclampsia
The primary symptoms of preeclampsia, high blood pressure and excess protein in urine, aren’t signs that you would typically be able to notice on your own. That’s why you should be careful to follow all your antenatal appointments and visit your doctor or midwife regularly throughout your pregnancy—they can see signs of danger that you can’t. However, if you notice any of the symptoms below, contact your doctor right away:
- Severe headaches
- Changes to your vision, like blurring or flashing lights
- Nausea and vomiting (especially if you are in a phase of pregnancy that is not typically characterized by morning sickness)
- Pain or cramping in your abdomen
- Very quick weight gain
- Swollen hands, feet, legs and/or face
You can read more about preeclampsia symptoms in our article especially devoted to that topic.
Risks for the mummy with preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is the name for this condition when it involves high blood pressure and increased protein levels in the urine. However, it is a precursor for a more serious condition called eclampsia, which occurs when a pregnant woman begins to have seizures. Preeclampsia and eclampsia are very serious and can even be fatal. Some of the risks involved include:
- Fluid in the lungs
- Temporary blindness
- Heart failure
- Liver damage, including bleeding from the liver
- Excessive bleeding after labour
Risks for the baby
Of course, anytime the expecting mother’s health is at risk, the baby is also in danger. These are the risks of preeclampsia, specifically for the baby:
- Stillbirth due to placental abruption (which happens when the placenta tears away from the uterine wall)
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Future learning disabilities
- Cerebral palsy
- Vision and hearing problems
Prognosis and treatment of preeclampsia
There is no way to cure this condition, except by delivering the baby. However, it is very important to know the symptoms and check in with your doctor regularly because the condition can be managed. The earlier you know about the disease, the more control you have over it.
Preeclampsia treatment is mostly about keeping the symptoms in check. Your doctor may do this by:
- Having you monitor your own blood pressure at home and report the results back
- Scheduling more frequent visits with you, in which he will check blood pressure, perform an ultrasound, and have blood and urine tests done
- Admitting you to the hospital for round-the-clock monitoring if your condition is severe enough
- Prescribing bed rest, particularly on your left side, which is the gentlest on the baby
- Keeping your blood pressure low through medication
- Preventing seizures with medicine
- Helping the baby (especially his lungs) develop more quickly with the help of steroids
If the preeclampsia treatments can keep the condition under control, you may be able to carry the baby to full term, or close enough to full term that it is safe to perform a C-section or induce labour. However, if the symptoms are so bad that they are putting your life and your child’s in danger, you and your doctor may have to discuss whether it’s safer to continue with the pregnancy or to induce labour, despite it being too soon.
Can we prevent preeclampsia?
It is impossible to control the genetic factors behind preeclampsia, such as a family history of the condition. However, you can take actions to reduce your risk of preeclampsia. Primarily, you can exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet to prevent (or even reverse) obesity and diabetes. Exercise is also good for keeping blood pressure low, which is one of the most important things for you to do. You can help this also by trying to keep your stress levels low and not smoking.