Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs during pregnancy, which is related to pregnancy-induced hypertension. Characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine, preeclampsia usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy. Sometimes referred to as pregnancy toxemia, preeclampsia can range from mild to severe. Without proper care and management, preeclampsia can cause a number of serious health complications, including preterm labor, seizures, and even death.
Who Gets Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia occurs in 5% to 8% of all pregnancies in the United States. Though any pregnant women can develop preeclampsia, the vast majority of sufferers are women experiencing their first pregnancies. Other risk factors area also known to increase your chances of developing the condition, including:
- having a personal history of preeclampsia (in a previous pregnancy)
- having a family history of preeclampsia (mother or sister developed it)
- being obese
- having a history of high blood pressure
- experiencing a multiple pregnancy
- being teenager or a women over the age of 40
- suffering from an autoimmune disorder (such as Lupus or Multiple Sclerosis)
What Causes Preeclampsia?
Unfortunately, no one is really sure what causes preeclampsia; in fact, most researchers think that a number of factors probably contribute to the development of the illness. Some theorize that poor placental implantation is to blame for the condition. If the placenta implants improperly during the beginning stages of pregnancy, arteries in the uterus fail to dilate. As a result, the placenta receives less blood and symptoms of high blood pressure and protein in the urine begin to manifest.
Watching Out For Preeclampsia: The Symptoms
All women with pre eclampsia have high blood pressure levels (above 140/90) and evidence of protein in the urine. Additional symptoms can also occur, however these can vary widely from person to person. Unfortunately, many women with mild preeclampsia don't experience any additional symptoms, which often makes diagnosis and proper treatment even more difficult. If you do experience symptoms, they may manifest slowly or quite rapidly sometime after the 20th week of pregnancy. Possible preeclampsia signs include:
- swelling (especially in the hands and face)
- rapid weight gain (more than 2 pounds per week)
- nausea and vomiting
- vision problems (including loss of vision or blurry vision)
- abdominal pain
The Dangers of Preeclampsia
Though the vast majority of preeclampsia sufferers experience only mild symptoms, some women can develop severe preeclampsia. This condition is associated with a number of health complications.
Complications for Mother
When severe, preeclampsia can create a number of health complications for mom, including:
- increased risk of stroke (due to high blood pressure)
- kidney and liver dysfunction
- eclampsia (a condition which causes the development of seizures)
- HELLP syndrome (the most severe form or preeclampsia)
Complications for Baby
Preeclampsia can result in a number of complications in your baby, including:
The only sure treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of your baby. If you develop preeclampsia after 36 weeks of pregnancy, you will likely be induced or will have your baby delivered via cesarean section. If you are less 36 weeks pregnant, your health care provider will probably try to keep your condition stable so that your baby can develop a little more.
If your condition is mild, you may be sent home and asked to reduce your activity. Your baby will be monitored closely for any problems. If your preeclampsia is more serious, you may have to remain in hospital for the rest of your pregnancy. Here, your health care provider can monitor your blood pressure closely and offer you medications to help reduce it. You may also receive steroids in order to help strengthen your baby's lungs should you deliver.
If you encounter any complications, your baby may have to be delivered early, probably through a cesarean section. You and your baby will then remain in hospital where you will be monitored closely.
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to prevent developing preeclampsia during your pregnancy. Researchers had hoped that supplements of Vitamins C and E could help to decrease the risk of preeclampsia by eliminating free radicals in the placenta. However, a recent study shows that these vitamins do not appear to lessen your risk.
The study, performed in the United Kingdom, examined 2,400 women at high risk of developing preeclampsia. Half of these women were given supplements of vitamins C and E while the other half were given placebo pills. Despite the use of supplements, both groups exhibited similar instances of preeclampsia during pregnancy, with 15% of women taking vitamin C and E and 16% of women in the control group developing the complication. However, 28% of those women who received vitamin C and E supplements during pregnancy gave birth to a low birthweight baby versus only 24% of women in the control group.
The best way to lower your risk of preeclampsia appears to be maintaining routine prenatal care appointments and by getting regular screening for the condition.