Pre-eclampsia is a condition that affects around 1 in 10 pregnant women. For most women it is a mild illness, however for some women it can become severe. Pre-eclampsia can develop anytime from the 20th week of pregnancy or soon after birth.
What causes pre-eclampsia?
Although the exact cause of pre-eclampsia is not known, it is thought to occur when there is an issue with the placenta attaching to the wall of the uterus in early pregnancy. We don’t know what causes this abnormal attachment, but it may be influenced by our immune system, genes or other medical conditions that a mother may have.
Signs of Pre-eclampsia
• High blood pressure
• Protein in the urine
• Sudden severe swelling of the face, hands and feet
• Blurred vision
• Severe Headaches
• Pain in the upper abdomen (just under the ribcage)
If you have any symptoms of pre-eclampsia seek medical advice from your doctor or midwife immediately.
Some women with pre-eclampsia have no symptoms at all, which is one of the reasons why your blood pressure will be regularly monitored by your midwife at antenatal appointments.
Risk factors for pre-eclampsia
• Multiple pregnancy (more than one baby)
• Maternal age over 40 years
• Pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy
• Family history of pre-eclampsia
• High blood pressure pre-pregnancy or before 20 weeks of pregnancy
• First pregnancy
If you have any pre-existing risk factors for pre-eclampsia it is important to discuss with your primary care provider prior to conceiving or early in pregnancy.
What is the treatment for pre-eclampsia?
Mild pre-eclampsia can often be monitored with regular blood pressure and urine checks. Severe pre-eclampsia may mean you need to be admitted to hospital. Medications may be used to manage blood pressure and prevent seizures. However, if pre-eclampsia becomes severe, the cure is to deliver baby and the placenta. This may mean that you are offered an induction of labour to bring on labour sooner. The good news is that pre-eclampsia usually disappears quickly after birth.
Can pre-eclampsia be prevented?
There is lots of research emerging about preventing pre-eclampsia which is exciting. Maintaining a healthy weight and addressing any pre-existing blood pressure or renal issues prior to pregnancy is one of the best things you can do. Particular medications or supplements may also be beneficial – please speak to your doctor or midwife for further information.
The bottom line…
For most women pregnancy is a normal, complication free event in their life. However, pre-eclampsia is a condition that can be dangerous for mum and baby if prompt medical treatment is not received. If you have any symptoms of pre-eclampsia or are concerned don’t hesitate to contact your midwife or doctor.
Article written by PBC Expo Midwife Hannah