Preeclampsia: What you need to know

Posted in All, Being Pregnant, Health + Safety and tagged .

Pregnant mum sitting on bed with preeclampsia

Pregnancy is a very exciting time for a woman. It can also be quite a scary and nerve-wracking time. One of the things that can make your pregnancy a little less enjoyable and a lot more stressful is a condition known as pre-eclampsia.

Here is what you need to know about the condition, and what it means for your pregnancy.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a medical term used to describe persistent high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy (from week 20 or later) or in the immediate postpartum period. Characterised by high levels of proteins in your urine, preeclampsia can also cause a low platelet count and potential issues with your lungs, kidneys, liver and brain. 

What causes it?

There are a number of things that can increase your risk of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy but there is no known clear cause at this stage. According to the NHS in the UK, the following factors increase your chances of developing the condition: 

  • A family history of preeclampsia
  • Having an autoimmune condition
  • Large gaps (10 years or more) between pregnancies
  • Being pregnant over the age of 40
  • First pregnancies and multiple birth pregnancies
  • Being obese while pregnant
  • Pre-existing high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes

How will I know if I have preeclampsia?

What you need to know about pre-eclampsia when pregnant | Mum's Grapevine

Because the high blood pressure characterised by preeclampsia in pregnancy can have either a gradual or sudden onset, you’ll find that your doctor or midwife will take your blood pressure at every checkup. High blood pressure is usually the first symptom, but not one that you’ll usually notice yourself.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in your vision such as blurry vision, temporary vision loss or light sensitivity 
  • Abdominal pain, particularly towards the right side of your ribcage
  • A decreased need to urinate or decreased urine volume – if this isn’t a red flag while pregnant, we don’t know what is!
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden weight gain and/or swelling in your face and hands

We know a lot of the above symptoms can also be normal signs of pregnancy but it’s really important to keep track of them and mention them to your doctor. If you’re experiencing more than one of these symptoms it’s worth calling your doctor straight away or presenting to your nearest emergency department to see if preeclampsia is a diagnosis.

Will my baby be ok if I have preeclamsia?

Worried pregnant mum holding belly STK

The biggest risk for your baby is preterm birth. According to The Preeclampsia Foundation, preeclampsia is responsible for 20% of all preterm births worldwide. They also state that the other risk of preeclampsia for your baby is Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). This is because preeclampsia can cause reduced blood flow to the placenta, cutting off or reducing the available supply of nutrients to your baby.

There are a few other potential risks for babies, but luckily, we have such good obstetric care in Australia they are rare. The most important thing is to attend your prenatal health checks so that your health providers can detect any abnormalities early on and provide treatment and intervention where required.

Preeclampsia is relatively common, with 5-10% of pregnant women in Australia diagnosed each year, so you can rest assured that your doctor is well experienced in dealing with the condition.

Is preeclampsia treatable?

Your doctor may recommend some medication to control your blood pressure and hopefully prevent your preeclampsia from worsening.

The ultimate goal is to keep you and your baby safe, and also keep your baby in utero as long as possible. However, if your preeclampsia worsens to a point where this is no longer viable, the only treatment is for you to birth your baby.

It is probably worthwhile preparing yourself with the likely eventuality that you will either be induced or have to have a c-section delivery. Some women with preeclampsia do make it to term for their deliveries, but that all depends on the severity of the case and any other relevant health factors.

Will I have to worry about future pregnancies?

Pregnant Belly 3rd trimester ultrasound si stk

It’s definitely something to be aware of and to discuss with your healthcare team but, no, there is no guarantee that you’ll suffer from preeclampsia again. The Royal Women’s Hospital in Victoria states that the risk of having the condition again in subsequent pregnancies is small. If, however, you have any of the underlying medical conditions listed above as risk factors, then there is a strong chance you may have to contend with it in future pregnancies.

The biggest takeaway is that preeclampsia is a serious condition but the outcomes are generally good for both mum and bub. Take advantage of the excellent maternal health care we have available in Australia and, if you’re ever in doubt about anything, make sure you let your doctor or midwife know.

Signs you might be getting preeclampsia

We asked the huge Mum’s Grapevine Facebook community what signs and symptoms first alerted them to possibly having preeclampsia, and this is what they shared …

“With all three pregnancies. Sparkles in eyes/blurred vision. Some swelling face and hands mostly” said Andrea.

“The worst headache of my life, felt like my brain was in a vice. No swelling” said Hayley

“Didn’t even think I had it till I complained to my OB about my nausea being really bad and my vision going weird” said Lauren

“Swelling, headache and fatigue. Then my placenta abrupted. Fun times.” said Eliska

“First sign was bad head aches and sparkles in my eyes.” said Sierra

” Lightheadedness was my biggest sign.” said Lucy

 

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