What is Preeclampsia?

Affecting approximately five percent of pregnant women, Preeclampsiais a condition involving high blood pressure and other signs of damage to organs. It can be potentially life-threatening to both the mother and unborn baby. It’s often detected during routine pregnancy screenings since there are often no clear symptoms or signs of preeclampsia.

What are the Symptoms of Preeclampsia?

  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure (140/90 ml or greater)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Vision changes (sensitivity to light, blurred vision)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe abdominal pain

Causes and Risk Factors

It’s believed preeclampsia starts to develop early in pregnancy due to reduced blood flow to the placenta or a failure of the placenta to properly affix to the uterine wall. Risk factors can include obesity, a history of high blood pressure, and having preexisting conditions such as kidney disease and diabetes.

Preeclampsia Causes

Preeclampsia is caused by several factors, beginning with the improper development or function of new blood vessels that develop during pregnancy. Some factors contributing to the development of these abnormal blood vessels include certain genes, problems with the immune system, insufficient blood flow to the uterus, and damage to the blood vessels.

High blood pressure disorders occurring during pregnancy such as chronic hypertension, gestational hypertension and chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia can all lead to preeclampsia.

Risk factors of preeclampsia include obesity, in vitro fertilization, and a history of preeclampsia. You’re also at a higher risk of preeclampsia if it’s your first pregnancy, you have a history of preeclampsia, you’re over the age of 40, or you have a history of certain conditions like migraines, kidney disease, lupus, or diabetes. If you’re having multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) or you’re having babies less than two years apart or more than 10 years apart, your risk of preeclampsia is higher.

How is Preeclampsia Treated?

Diagnosing Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is usually diagnosed through a urine sample by checking for high protein levels (proteinuria) and reduced platelet levels (hrombocytopenia) and by getting high blood pressure readings on two occasions. It typically occurs during the second half of pregnancy and may occur during labor or within 1-2 days of delivery.

Early Delivery

If preeclampsia is detected after 37 weeks, labor is often induced. When detected earlier, the mother and baby will be monitored. Magnesium sulfate may be delivered by IV to prevent seizures and medication prescribed to lower blood pressure. If preeclampsia is severe, the mother is often hospitalized and monitored and given corticosteroids to help the baby’s lungs develop. A c-section may be performed when it’s safe to do so.

If untreated, preeclampsia may lead to a related condition called HELLP (hemolysis, or the destruction of red blood cells, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count). Taking aspirin after the first trimester may help reduce the risk for women susceptible to developing the condition. Blood pressure often returns to normal after delivery.

Preeclampsia Prevention

Researchers aren’t sure that preeclampsia can be completely prevented. Some studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and an increased risk of preeclampsia. However, other studies have shown that there’s no association between the two.

You may be able to lower your risk of preeclampsia by taking a low dose of aspirin. If you have certain risk factors for preeclampsia, your doctor may recommend that you take low-dose aspirin. These risk factors include a history of kidney disease, preeclampsia resulting in a preterm delivery, a history of preeclampsia with severe symptoms, or chronic hypertension. A dose of aspirin between 60 and 81 milligrams should be sufficient. Your doctor may recommend that you begin taking it starting at the end of your first trimester.

Lowering your risk of high blood pressure can reduce your chances of preeclampsia. Watch your blood pressure by getting plenty of rest, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, limiting fried and junk foods, exercising regularly, and drinking plenty of water every day.