What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication which can cause excessive swelling and can lead to serious complications if not controlled. It develops during pregnancy because the placenta fails to function properly. It affects women who are overweight and obese and those who have other medical conditions.
Symptoms include swelling around the eyes, ankles, and hands, headaches, shortness of breath, trouble swallowing, and extreme tiredness. The best way to prevent pre-eclampsia is through a healthy, active pregnancy. If pre-eclampsia is diagnosed, it is vital that the mother’s weight is monitored closely and that she is closely monitored while she is pregnant. If left untreated, pre-eclampsia can be fatal.
What causes preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia occurs when your blood pressure and blood sugar levels get out of balance. There are a number of reasons that can cause this condition, including problems with your blood vessels (artery problems) and your placenta (the organ that produces hormones for the fetus).
However, most cases are associated with abnormalities in the placenta, according to Dr. David Sack, M.D., director of obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Health System in New York City.
What are the symptoms?
While not every woman with preeclampsia will experience every symptom, here are five signs that you should be alert for, according to Dr. Michael DeZeeuw.
Fever: If your fever is higher than 99.5 degrees (or your temperature is taken every few hours), see your doctor immediately.
Chest pain: This may feel like sharp or aching pain in your left or right upper chest.
The number of your fingers or toes getting bigger: This is usually accompanied by swelling around your hands or feet.
Spotting: This is a sign of the placenta not effectively removing waste and excess fluid from your blood.
Severe changes in your vision: A change in the cornea of the eye, or cloudiness, could indicate an abnormal form of the blood vessel wall, which can also affect your vision.
Shortness of breath: If your symptoms worsen, you may develop chest pain, be more short of breath, or notice that you have white or grayish-brown urine. If you feel worse after lying down, your condition is called postpartum pulmonary edema.
What is the treatment for preeclampsia?
Sufferers of preeclampsia typically undergo monitoring throughout pregnancy and after delivery, including blood pressure checks and additional visits to a doctor, hospital, or obstetrician to monitor vital signs.
A dietitian can help individuals who are expecting or who have recently given birth avoid certain foods that may worsen preeclampsia symptoms.
Women who already have preeclampsia should be prescribed an anti-hypertensive medication to lower blood pressure and maintain blood sugar.
What is the treatment for preeclampsia after pregnancy?
Dr. Grothaus said that at this point, the only treatments for preeclampsia are to keep the mother and the baby healthy.
“You don’t need a lot of treatment for preeclampsia,” Dr. Grothaus said. “You just need a little bit of treatment.”
If there are no complications after a healthy delivery, then doctors usually will not need to prescribe treatments for the condition after delivery, unless the condition worsens in the postpartum period.
Treating the underlying cause of preeclampsia
A doctor may recommend several types of treatment options to help ease the symptoms of preeclampsia.
Certain lifestyle changes may improve symptoms of preeclampsia. These may include:
- getting adequate rest
- eating a healthy diet
- not smoking
- maintaining a healthy weight
- not drinking alcohol
Not all women with preeclampsia will receive medication treatment, although the outlook for some is very good.
Symptoms of preeclampsia usually get worse during the last trimester, although symptoms can be managed while the condition is mild or moderate.
Once the condition reaches severe levels, a doctor may be able to prescribe treatment to prevent complications.
Complications of preeclampsia can range from mild to life-threatening, depending on the person’s underlying health conditions and underlying health conditions that cause the preeclampsia.
Symptoms that can lead to complications of preeclampsia include:
- low blood pressure
- severe swelling in the body
- lack of oxygen or a poor supply of oxygen
- severe headache
- speech or swallowing problems
- abnormal vision
- kidney problems
- fatigue and weakness
- difficulty urinating
- persistent swelling in the feet and hands
- a plugged duct in the breast
- a bulging baby bump
If preeclampsia continues for more than 30 days after delivery, it is considered postpartum preeclampsia.
When to see a doctor
It is a good idea to see a doctor if a woman is pregnant, experiencing symptoms of preeclampsia, or has a preeclamptic pregnancy. Preeclampsia is a condition that should be monitored for several months after delivery, even for expectant mothers who are not experiencing complications.
Other symptoms of preeclampsia include:
- nausea and vomiting
- severe headaches
- tingling in the hands or feet
- abnormal bruising or bleeding on or around the body
It is a good idea for people to check with their doctor to see if they are experiencing any of the symptoms of preeclampsia. This can help identify any early signs of the condition.
There are also blood tests that can help detect problems before they are symptomatic.
Diagnosis of Pre-eclampsia
Pre-eclampsia diagnosis appears to improve with other factors in the mother, including the potential to induce gestational diabetes. Women who are known to have diabetes, which is a known risk factor for pre-eclampsia, are often diagnosed when they reach their pre-pregnancy weight, which significantly reduces their risk of pre-eclampsia. One concern with inducing gestational diabetes, however, is that it may lead to placental abruption, a pregnancy-related condition that occurs when there is abrupt thinning or separation of the placenta, which is the organ that delivers nutrients to the fetus. If a placental abruption is not detected and treated early, pre-term labor is very likely.
Dr. Chris Meigs, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says that women with pre-eclampsia can decrease the risk of placental abruption by monitoring their blood pressure, eating a healthy diet, avoiding stress, and exercising regularly.
Are there health conditions that can raise the risk of pre-eclampsia?
The pre-eclampsia risk may also be affected by certain factors that raise your risk of high blood pressure, such as being African American or older, or by a family history of high blood pressure, a pregnancy that is very difficult or complicated, or gestational diabetes.
How can I tell if I have pre-eclampsia?
Any woman who has certain symptoms or is on medication that causes swelling should see her doctor immediately. Pregnancy is the most common risk factor for pre-eclampsia, so if you’ve been pregnant before, your doctor may want to evaluate you for pre-eclampsia, particularly if you have risk factors. You should tell your doctor about your other medical conditions and if you are an at-risk patient.
Are there steps I can take to lower my risk?
The best thing you can do to reduce your risk of pre-eclampsia is to keep a healthy weight. Risk of pre-eclampsia increases as a woman’s body mass index (BMI) increases. Normal weight is considered a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. If you are overweight, there’s no reason to be concerned unless you also have risk factors for pre-eclampsia, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, or a previous history of pregnancy complications.
If your doctor recommends induction of labor, she’ll likely suggest inducing at a slightly higher point than your doctor would recommend if you had a normal pregnancy. The induction procedure has to be safe, but a physician may also prescribe other medications or use other procedures during the labor to keep the woman as comfortable as possible.