If you’re nearly halfway through your pregnancy and your scans have shown everything is going well so far, but just as you’re beginning to relax someone mentions the word ‘pre-eclampsia’, you may to start to worry. But before you panic, it’s important to get your facts straight.
While up to one in 10 women develop pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, only one in 100 women develop the severe form of the condition, so while it is important to keep an eye on your health, it's unlikely to turns into anything serious.
Miss Shazia Malik, consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, looks at the pre-eclampsia symptoms, causes and treatment options to put your mind at ease:
What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is a condition unique to pregnancy that can develop at any point, but typically occurs after 20 weeks. The main signs of pre-eclampsia include hypertension (high blood pressure) and a high-level of protein in the urine.
However, some women also notice pre-eclampsia symptoms, including:
- Severe headaches
- Severe pain in the upper abdomen
- Blurred vision/floaters
- Swelling in the feet, legs and hands
- Bruising more easily
⚠️ Expectant mums who experience any of the above pre-eclampsia symptoms should always seek medical advice.
In rare cases, pre-eclampsia can progress to a condition known as eclampsia (convulsions), which can be very dangerous for both mum and baby. For this reason, women with pre-eclampsia should be closely monitored by their medical team throughout their pregnancy and birth.
What causes pre-eclampsia?
During pregnancy, the placenta is the link between the mother’s blood supply and the baby’s blood supply. If the placenta has not developed properly, it can affect the blood flow and resistance in its blood vessels, disrupting the supply between mother and baby. The disrupted placental blood supply can affect the baby's growth and an abnormal placenta releases substances which cause high-blood pressure in the mother.
How is pre-eclampsia treated?
If a woman is found to be suffering with pre-eclampsia, she will be closely monitored throughout her pregnancy, to ensure the condition does not worsen until the baby can be delivered. Monitoring will include:
✔️ Regular blood pressure checks
✔️ Urine samples
✔️ Blood tests
✔️ Regular ultrasound scans (to ensure the baby is still developing at the correct rate)
✔️ Women may also be given medication, to help lower their blood pressure
How long does pre-eclampsia last?
Pre-eclampsia won’t go away until the baby is delivered. But in most cases, it will disappear within 48-hours of giving birth.
Therefore, providing your condition is not worsening prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy, the best treatment option is usually an induced labour or caesarean section around your due date.
However, each case is different and you will have to be assessed by your medical team, who will decide the safest option for you and your baby.
⚠️It’s important to note that preeclampsia can develop even after birth, which is why you must speak with your midwife or the hospital if you develop any of the above symptoms.
Can you prevent pre-eclampsia?
There are currently no preventative measures for pre-eclampsia. However, measures such as those used to reduce high-blood pressure in general can be helpful to stay well, so drink plenty of water, avoid too much salt or fried food in your diet, stay active and avoid alcohol and too much caffeine.
Having a family history of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy or high-blood pressure more generally can increase your risk of developing pre-eclampsia. If this is the case, your doctor may advise medication, such as aspirin, to help lower the risk at the beginning of your pregnancy. This will also be the case if you have suffered with pre-eclampsia in any previous pregnancies. Please do not, however, take aspirin without the advice of your doctor, as it can be dangerous if not taken appropriately.
Potential pre-eclampsia complications
Complications related to pre-eclampsia are rare, but they can sometimes occur if the condition isn’t diagnosed, monitored and managed. Complications can affect the health of both mother and baby.
The result of very high-blood pressure can reduce the blood supply to the brain, resulting in a stroke. A lack of blood supply to the brain will starve it of oxygen and nutrients, consequently killing brain cells, which can lead to brain damage.
Blood clots are another complication associated with pre-eclampsia. Blood clots can block the flow of blood through the blood vessels, which may lead to damaged organs.
In other severe cases, pre-eclampsia can lead to seizures in the mother, known as eclampsia, or damage to the liver and kidneys if severe.
Pre-eclampsia may reduce the baby’s growth as it reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients exchanged between mother and baby from the placenta. The baby might also be smaller if it’s had to be delivered before full term as a result of the condition.
However, it’s important to remember that these complications are rare and that, monitored properly, you and your baby are likely to stay safe and healthy.
Last updated: 30-10-19
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