Pregnant? What you need to know about pre-eclampsia

Pregnant? Are you making all of your prenatal visits? It can seem tiresome to go to prenatal visits when it seems like they do the same blood pressure and urine tests every single time, but those prenatal visits are critical for keeping you and baby healthy. One of the conditions your midwife or obstetrician is on the lookout for is pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia is a potentially life-threatening condition for mother and baby where an expectant mother develops high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia and its related conditions affect somewhere between one in 10 or one in 20 pregnant women every year making it a relatively common condition.

pregnant preeclampsia

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is often a silent condition, the signs subtle or dismissed as just a ‘normal’ part of pregnancy – making prescribed bedrest particularly frustrating to a woman who feels fine. The subtle often silent signs of pre-eclampsia mean that those prenatal visits and checks are vital to catching and treating it.

While pre-eclampsia can be a silent condition, be on the watch for any of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
    Yes, a little in your feet might be fine, but around your face? Hands? Get it checked.
  • Sudden weight gain
    Those repeated weighing measurements are not just some torture device; they have an important purpose. Watch for more than two pounds a week.
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
    Pain in the stomach area just beneath the ribs and/or shoulder
  • Migraine-like headache
    If it doesn’t go away with your obstetrician-approved over-the-counter medication, call your provider that day.
  • Vision changes
    From flashing lights and light sensitivity to blurry vision, if your vision changes contact your provider immediately.
  • Confused, muddled thinking, racing pulse, sense of anxiety
    More than usual? See a doctor.

Eclampsia vs. pre-eclampsia

Eclampsia is viewed as a serious complication of pre-eclampsia. It can result in seizures for the expectant or postpartum mother. During a seizure, the oxygen supply to the fetus is drastically reduced. Sudden seizures can occur before, during or (rarely) up to six weeks after delivery (postpartum). Postpartum seizures are most common during the first 48 hours after delivery.

How is pre-eclampsia diagnosed and treated?

Today, the number of women who die as a result of eclampsia, or suffer complications from pre-eclampsia, is much lower than it was a century ago thanks to prenatal blood pressure monitoring, urine tests, and the use of magnesium sulfate and other anticonvulsants to treat seizures in women with eclampsia and prevent seizures in women who have pre-eclampsia. But the precise cause of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia is not known. This is why it is critical that all pregnant women get regular monitoring from their obstetrician or midwife.

During these visits, your blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff. A sudden increase in blood pressure often is the first sign of a problem. You also will have a urine test to look for protein, another symptom of pre-eclampsia. If you have high blood pressure, tell your doctor right away if you also have a headache or belly pain. These symptoms of pre-eclampsia can occur before protein shows up in your urine.

Treatment of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia

The only cure for eclampsia and pre-eclampsia? The end of pregnancy! Even then, the impacts of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia can be seen up to six weeks postpartum.

If diagnosed your doctor may suggest:

  • Magnesium sulfate or another anticonvulsant if you have severe pre-eclampsia to prevent seizures
  • Blood pressure medication to lower your blood pressure until postpartum
  • Corticosteroids if you have severe pre-eclampsia or HELLP
  • Bed rest or reduced activity. Depending on the severity of the pre-eclampsia, this reduced activity might be to keep off your feet for a certain amount of time each day, bed rest at home or bed rest in the hospital.
  • Toward the end of pregnancy or if the pre-eclampsia is particularly severe, it may be suggested to induce labor or to perform a Cesarean section.

There is no cure for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, and both are very serious medical conditions, but we do have treatment and management plans. For the healthiest pregnancy, we encourage you to keep up with your prenatal appointments with an obstetrician or midwife throughout your pregnancy.

 

Leave a Reply


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
%d bloggers like this: