What Is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a condition that is developed by pregnant women. Preeclampsia was formerly called toxemia and it is characterized by high blood pressure in women who have previously not experienced high blood pressure before.
Preeclamptic women will have a high level of protein in their urine and often also have swelling in the feet, legs, and hands. This condition typically occurs late in pregnancy although it can also appear earlier.
If left undiagnosed or untreated, preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia – a life-threatening condition that can put you and your baby at risk, and in rare cases, can lead to death. Women with preeclampsia who have seizures are considered to have eclampsia.
There’s no way to cure preeclampsia except for delivery. But you can help protect yourself by learning the symptoms of preeclampsia and by seeing your doctor for regular prenatal care. Catching preeclampsia early may decrease potential long-term effects for both mom and baby,
Causes of Preeclampsia
The exact causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia – a result of a placenta that doesn’t work properly are yet unknown, although some researchers suspect some possible contributory factors may be poor nutrition, high body fat, genetics, and insufficient blood flow to the uterus.
Who Is at Risk for Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is most often seen in first-time pregnancies, in pregnant teens, and in women over 40. While it is defined as occurring in women have never had high blood pressure before, other risk factors include:
- A history of high blood pressure prior to pregnancy
- A history of preeclampsia
- Having a mother or sister who had preeclampsia
- A history of obesity
- Carrying more than one baby
- History of diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Rapid weight gain caused by a significant increase in bodily fluid
- High blood pressure
- Protein in urine
- Severe headaches
- Swellings in feet and hands
- Change in reflexes
- Vision changes
- Reduced urine or no urine output
- Excessive vomiting and nausea
Some pregnant women can have preeclampsia and not have any symptoms. So, it’s imperative to see your doctor for regular blood pressure and urine checks.
How Preeclampsia Can Affect Baby
Preeclampsia can prevent the placenta from receiving enough blood, which may in turn cause the baby to be born very small or underweight. It can also lead to premature births. Complications can follow, including epilepsy, cerebral palsy, vision problems, learning disabilities and hearing problems.
In moms-to-be, preeclampsia can cause serious complications that include:
- Bleeding after delivery
- Heart failure
- Bleeding from liver
- Water in the lungs
- Reversible blindness
Preeclampsia can also cause the placenta to suddenly separate from the uterus, which is called placental abruption. This can cause stillbirth.
What Is the Treatment for Preeclampsia and Eclampsia?
There is no cure for preeclampsia and eclampsia. The only remedy is to deliver your baby. Your doctor will talk with you about when to deliver based on how far along your baby is, how well your baby is doing in your womb, and how severe your preeclampsia is.
If your baby has developed enough, usually by 37 weeks or later, your doctor may want to induce labour or perform a cesarean section. This is will stop preeclampsia from deteriorating.
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However, if your baby is not close to term, you and your doctor may be able to treat preeclampsia until your baby has developed enough to be safely delivered. The closer the birth is to your due date, the better for your baby.
If you have mild preeclampsia – also known as preclampsia with and without severe features, your doctor may advice the following:
- Bed rest either at home or in the hospital; you’ll be asked to rest mostly on your left side.
- You’ll be placed under careful observation with a fetal heart rate monitor and frequent ultrasounds
- You’ll also be administered medications to lower your blood pressure
- Blood and urine tests
Other treatments include:
- Magnesium can be injected into the veins to prevent eclampsia-related seizures
- Hydralazine or another antihypertensive drug to manage severe high blood pressure
- Monitoring fluid intake and urine output
In cases of severe preeclampsia, your doctor may need to deliver your baby right away, even if you’re still far from your due date. Preeclampsia symptoms should recede within a period of 1 to 6 weeks after delivery.