Preeclampsia during pregnancy is a serious complication that is characterized by uncontrollable high blood pressure. It results in severe damage to the various vital organ of the body, most commonly affecting the liver and kidneys. It normally develops after 20 weeks of gestation in women who previously didn’t have high blood pressure. Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to very serious — even fatal — complications for both you and your little one.
If you have preeclampsia, the most effective treatment is the delivery of your little one. Even after childbirth, it can still take a while for you to get better.
If you’re diagnosed with preeclampsia too early in your pregnancy, it causes complications making it a challenging task for you and the doctor during delivery. That’s why your little one needs more time to develop, but you need to avoid putting yourself or your baby at risk of serious complications.
Rarely, preeclampsia occurs after delivery of a baby, a condition known as postpartum preeclampsia.
Symptoms of preeclampsia during pregnancy:
Preeclampsia during pregnancy sometimes develops without any manifestations. High blood pressure may develop gradually, or it may have a sudden onset. Monitoring your blood pressure is a necessary part of prenatal care because the first sign of preeclampsia is most commonly a rise in blood pressure. Blood pressure that goes beyond 140/90 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) or greater — documented on two occasions, at least four hours apart — is abnormal.
Other signs and symptoms of preeclampsia during pregnancy:
- Excess protein in your urine (proteinuria)
- Pulsating headaches
- Changes in vision, blurred vision or light sensitivity
- Upper abdominal pain
- Reduced urine output
- Reduced levels of platelets in your blood (thrombocytopenia)
- Impaired function of the liver
- Sudden weight gain and swelling — particularly in your face and hands — may occur with preeclampsia. But these also occur in many normal pregnancies, so they’re not considered as an accurate sign of preeclampsia.
Causes of preeclampsia during pregnancy:
The exact cause of preeclampsia during pregnancy involves various factors. Many experts believe it begins in the placenta — the organ that nourishes the foetus throughout the gestational period. In the early stage of pregnancy, new blood vessels develop and evolve to efficiently send blood to the placenta.
In pregnant ladies with preeclampsia, these blood vessels don’t seem to develop and function properly. The lumen of such blood vessels is narrower than that of normal blood vessels. They react differently to hormonal signalling, which limits the amount of blood that can flow through them.
Causes of such abnormal development of blood vessels may include:
- Insufficient flow of blood to the uterus
- Damage to the blood vessels (arteries and veins)
- Impaired immune system
- Certain mutated genes
Risk factors for preeclampsia during pregnancy:
Preeclampsia develops only as a pregnancy complication. Risk factors include:
- History (health or family) of preeclampsia: A personal or family history of preeclampsia significantly increases your risk of preeclampsia.
- Chronic blood pressure (hypertension): If you already have chronic hypertension, you have a higher chance of developing preeclampsia.
- First pregnancy: The risk of developing preeclampsia is maximum during your first pregnancy.
- Age factor: The risk of preeclampsia is higher for very young pregnant ladies as well as for pregnant ladies older than 40 years of age.
- Race: Black women have a higher chance of developing preeclampsia than women of other races.
- Obesity problem: The risk of preeclampsia is more if you’re obese.
- Multiple times of pregnancies: Preeclampsia is more common in females who are carrying twins, triplets or other multiples.
- The time interval between pregnancies: Having babies less than two years or more than 10 years apart leads to higher chances of preeclampsia.
When to see your doctor/physician?
Make sure you attend your prenatal visits so that your doctor can monitor your blood pressure. Contact your doctor immediately if you have severe headaches, blurred vision or other visual disturbance, severe abdominal pain, or severe breathlessness.
Because headaches, nausea, and pains(cramps) are very usual pregnancy problems, it’s difficult to know when new symptoms are simply part of being pregnant and when they may indicate a very serious problem — especially if it’s your first-time of pregnancy. If you’re worried about your symptoms, talk to your doctor.