In honor of Preeclampsia Awareness Month, let us explore what it is, who it affects, potential side effects, and treatments for this condition.
Preeclampsia is a disorder that affects people during pregnancy and postpartum and occurs in 5-8% of all pregnancies. Together with other hypertensive disorders, it is the leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death (preeclampsia.org). The symptoms of preeclampsia can be subtle and/or come on very rapidly. During pregnancy, you begin to experience so many aches, pains, and discomforts that sometimes you may dismiss important symptoms that can be potentially dangerous. However, because it is relatively common most OB/GYN or midwife practices may routinely test your urine for protein and check your blood pressure. They may also inform you to pay attention for any headaches, swelling, sudden weight gain, and changes in vision. If you experience one or more of those symptoms, it is important to check with your health care provider for their instructions on what to do.
The first step in preventing preeclampsia is to eat a balance, nutritious diet and take your prenatal vitamins to ensure proper health for you and your baby. It is also very important to receive prenatal care during your pregnancy, so they may monitor your blood pressure and monitor you for signs of preeclampsia. Another option is to monitor your blood pressure from home with a monitor that may be purchased at a pharmacy; but be aware that home monitors may not be as accurate as a reading taken by your health care provider. Swelling is another indicator that preeclampsia may be developing and while minor swelling during pregnancy is normal, excess fluid in your face, hands, and feet can be a sign of edema and should be checked out by a health care provider. Severe and persistant headaches, especially combined with changes in vision, is another symptom that you should not ignore. Preeclampsia can progress into eclampsia (seizures) or HELPP syndrome (a more severe and potentially fatal disorder).
The exact causes of preeclampsia are unknown but as more awareness and studies are formed, we learn more about how to prevent and cure it. Some theories of the causation of preeclampsia are: insufficient blood flow to the uterus; obesity; genetics; nutritional deficiencies; maternal conditions such as diabetes, lupus, sickle cell disorder, kidney disorder, and hyperthyroidism; calcium deficiency; and inflammation (preeclampsia.org).
Preeclampsia can lead to brain injury in the mother, if left untreated. It can also affect the baby and is responsible for up to 20% of preterm births each year. Because it can reduce the blood flow to the placenta, preeclampsia causes 15% of cases of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR); which is where the placenta fails to deliver the proper blood flow and nutrients to the baby, resulting in malnourishment and small size. In more severe instances where the blood flow is so severely restricted that the baby just simply isn’t getting enough, it first restrics flow to its stomach, kidney, and limbs. If the placenta fails and oxygen to the baby is depleted, it can result in acidosis as lactic acid builds up; which requires immediate delivery, even if you are not at term yet. (preeclampsia.org).
If you do develop preeclampsia, your health care provider will assess your individual circumstances to make a medical recommendation for how to proceed. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery. However, if you are still preterm, the risks of preterm delivery must be weighed against the risks of preeclampsia. You may receive more frequent monitoring or bed rest until the risks for preterm delivery are lowered as baby grows and/or the risks of preeclampsia outweigh them. If the risks of preeclampsia are too high, the baby may be delivered as to cure the preeclampsia.
Awareness for preeclampsia is not intended to scare expecting parents, but rather inform you of the signs, symptoms, and severity of this disorder. This disorder can be developed and progress without ever experiencing symptoms, so it is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and routinely see your care provider, even if you feel perfectly healthy. Finally, if you do develop these symptoms, contact your health care provider right away. New parents may feel paranoid or unsure if it’s actually a good reason to call, but it is always, always, always better to be safe than sorry!