by Kimberly Allen, RN
Preeclamsia, formerly known as toxemia is a complication that can occur during pregnancy. It is more common in first time mothers occurring in approximately 10% of women that are pregnant for the first time. Most of them suffer from mild preeclampsia, however, approximately 2% have severe preeclampsia. Also, if you had preeclampsia during your first pregnancy chances are you’ll have it again in any later pregnancies. Women younger than 20 years of age as well as those over 40 years of age have a higher chance of developing preeclampsia. Women that are obese also have a greater risk of developing preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is also more common in women that are expecting multiple births like twins or triplets. The more babies you are expecting the greater your risk. Women that are suffering from pre-existing conditions like kidney disease, chronic hypertension and migraine headaches as well as those with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and diabetes including gestational diabetes have a significantly higher chance of developing preeclampsia than women with no pre-existing conditions.
Preeclampsia is defined as “high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a woman who previously had normal blood pressure”. Although doctors now know that preeclampsia is not caused by a toxin in the woman’s bloodstream they have not been able to find a specific cause. However, they feel that certain conditions can lead to preeclampsia like if there’s not enough blood supply getting to the uterus, any damage to the blood vessels as well as problems with your immune system. Even a poor diet can lead to the development of preeclampsia.
Frequently preeclampsia develops suddenly after 20 weeks of pregnancy, however, it also can develop slowly over time. For women with a normal blood pressure before pregnancy that usually means a blood pressure of 140/90mmHg or higher. This pressure must be documented at least twice. They must be at least 6 hours apart but not more than 7 days apart. Other key signs that your doctor will look for is a diminished urine output and protein in your urine, Symptoms you might experience if you have developed preeclampsia could include severe headaches, nausea and vomiting as well as dizziness and changes in your vision like blurry vision or light sensitivity even temporary loos of vision. Some women also have a sudden weight gain. Preeclampsia is almost always accompanied by swelling in your hands, feet and face. However, because swelling occurs in normal pregnancies it is not considered a reliable indication of preeclampsia.
The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery of your baby. However, if it’s early in your pregnancy, especially before 37 weeks, that may not be an option. Women that develop preeclampsia early in their pregnancy will need to be monitored more closely, some doctors recommend weekly visits depending on the severity of your condition. Your doctor may also recommend medications to lower your blood pressure until delivery. In some cases the Dr may prescribe corticosteroids, especially if you have HELLP syndrome which is an acronym for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. HELLP can devolve into a life threatening situation for both you and your baby. Corticosteroids can also assist you baby’s lung in maturing more quickly usually with in 48 hours. This is important for babies that need to be delivered prematurely. If you have severe preeclampsia your doctor may prescribe anticonvulsant medication like magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. Most doctors also recommend bedrest to help lower your blood pressure and improve blood flow to your placenta. Your doctor may also want to see you a few times a week to monitor your blood pressure and the protein in your urine as well as your baby’s well being.
Most women with preeclampsia have normal healthy babies. However, left untreated the risk of severe complications for both you and your baby increase significantly.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.