May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month, do you know what preeclampsia is? Do you know the signs and symptoms, if you’re at risk, if it can be prevented?
Here are some facts that every pregnant woman needs to know about preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia, or high blood pressure in pregnancy, affects one in twelve pregnant women (or about 5 – 8% of all pregnancies). You may have heard terms like toxemia, PIH (pregnancy induced hypertension), EPH or PET, these aren’t used anymore but referred to the same condition.
There is no known way to prevent preeclampsia and no know cause, however, there are risk factors that are known to increase a Mom’s chances of developing preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia Risk factors include:
- Preeclampsia in another pregnancy
- A first pregnancy
- A medical history of high blood pressure
- Being pregnant with twins (or more)
- Maternal age under 18 or over 40 years old
- Long intervals between pregnancies
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Various preexisting medical conditions such as diabetes, lupus, autoimmune disorders, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or sickle cell disease
- A family history of preeclampsia, high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes
If you’ve had it in a previous pregnancy, the possibility of getting it again ranges from 5 – 80% depending upon factors like severity, overall health, and at what time in your gestation you had preeclampsia in your previous pregnancy. If you’ve developed preeclampsia before, seek preconception or early pregnancy guidance from a specialist.
Why does preeclampsia matter? How can a pregnant Mom spot it early?
Preeclampsia, one of the most common pregnancy complications, is diagnosed by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Elevated blood pressure puts Moms at risk for brain injury and blood clotting problems. It can interfere with liver and kidney function, cause fluid in the lungs or seizures and in severe forms (such as eclampsia or HELLP), or if it’s not treated promptly and effectively, it can be fatal in very rare cases.
Preeclampsia can affect baby, too. It can restrict the nutrients and oxygen a baby gets causing IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction) and preeclampsia can lead to placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall anytime before birth). Prematurity is most often caused by preeclampsia as birth is the only cure for it; therefore if the risks outweigh the benefit of remaining pregnant, it may be decided to deliver a baby prior to 37 weeks.
Birth of the baby is the only cure, but preeclampsia may be treated with bedrest, medications and will be closely monitored once it has been identified.
Signs and symptoms that every pregnant woman needs to know about preeclampsia:
- High blood pressure (this is why it’s checked routinely) – 140/90 or higher
- Protein in urine (also checked routinely at midwife or doctor visits to screen)
- Swelling around the eyes, in the face, hands or feet, if swelling comes on suddenly or if there is a dent in the skin after a finger is pressed into it
- Headaches that persist
- Changes in vision like double vision, blurriness, flashes or auras
- Nausea in late pregnancy
- Pain in the upper abdomen or chest – feelings like heartburn, gall bladder pain or even the flu
- Sudden weight gain of 2 or more pounds in a week
- Difficulty breathing, feeling breathless, panting or gasping for air
If you experience even one of these signs, go to your provider or emergency room immediately.
Learning about preeclampsia, it’s signs, symptoms and risk factors, is important in identifying warnings if you’re pregnant and in sharing the information with pregnant friends and family members.
If you’ve experience preeclampsia, please share any helpful tips with Mother’s Circle readers.