What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia (also known as toxemia or pregnancy-induced hypertension) is characterized by high blood pressure, fluid retention that shows up in the second half of pregnancy, and protein in the urine. It can be either mild or severe; in its most severe form, it can develop into HELLP syndrome. Serious cases can restrict blood flow to the placenta. Should the blood flow to the placenta be restricted it could seriously harm your baby.
Preeclampsia is more likely to occur in first pregnancies and beyond the 20th week of gestation. Although preeclampsia is a rare pregnancy complication, if you ensure that you are getting all the right prenatal care and keeping all of your prenatal appointments, the chances are that your health care provider will pick up the problem early enough to treat it.
The following factors put women at greatest risk of developing preeclampsia:
- Carrying multiple fetuses
- Those over the age of forty
- Women with eating disorders
- Those who already have chronic high blood pressure
- If it is your first pregnancy
- Being African American
- If your mother or your spouse's mother had preeclampsia during her pregnancy
Signs and Symptoms
If you experience any of the following symptoms make sure to call your practitioner:
- If, after the 20th week of pregnancy, your blood pressure rises to 140/90 or more when you have never had high blood pressure
- Sudden weight gain unrelated to excess food intake
- Severe swelling of the hands and face
- Unexplained headaches or fever
- Esophageal or stomach pain or itching
- Vision disturbances, such as blurred vision
- Protein in the urine or very low urine output
- Rapid heartbeat
Luckily, if you are receiving regular medical care, preeclampsia is almost always caught early enough to be managed successfully. The first option is usually to reduce your blood pressure. This is typically done by getting plenty of rest, attaining a proper diet, exercising, stress reduction and medication if needed. The ultimate treatment however is delivery. Only then will you be cured. During your pregnancy the baby's condition will be assessed regularly.
In cases of severe preeclampsia, the treatment is usually more aggressive. Intravenous magnesium sulfate helps prevent progression of preeclampsia. If the fetus is close to term, and/or if its lungs are determined to be mature, immediate delivery is usually performed. Luckily, in almost all women with preeclampsia who also have chronic hypertension, blood pressure returns to normal following delivery. Although preeclampsia is not a very common complication, it is definitely not something to be taken lightly, so be sure that you keep your prenatal appointments and have all the tests done that need to be done.