What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy and is diagnosed by physicians who notice a rise in blood pressure, high levels of protein in the urine and weight gain with edema. It is estimated that 3 % to 7 % of pregnant women develop Preeclampsia and in Canada, Preeclampsia is the leading cause of maternal mortality. This is related to the fact that when our blood pressure is high during pregnancy, we are more at risk to have a miscarriage or preterm birth, resulting in complications.
Are you at risk?
If you have a hereditary predisposition for hypertension, for example, if a member of your family has been diagnosed with hypertension, or if you are part of an ethnic group more vulnerable to hypertension, you are more at risk of developing Preeclampsia during your pregnancy. Other known factors that can increase your risks are:
- Your age (before 20 years old and after 40 years old);
- If this is your first pregnancy;
- If you or your family have a history of Preeclampsia;
- If you are pregnant with multiples;
- If you are of African or Amerindian descent;
- If you have diabetes;
- If you have a history of hypertension, kidney disease or blood disorders;
- If you are overweight.
As we mentioned earlier, physicians diagnose Preeclampsia when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure that when too high, may also bring on an elevation of proteins in the urine and edema. Here are the other symptoms you can observe:
- The edema (swelling of face, hands, ankles or feet) can lead to increased weight gain;
- Important headaches;
- Abdominal pain;
- Eye problems (troubled vision);
- Delay in the baby’s growth.
If you have Preeclampsia and it is not diagnosed in time, you are at risk of developing serious complications, which are:
- A cerebral hemorrhage;
- A retinal detachment that can lead to blindness;
- Rupture of the liver;
- A placental abruption
- HELLP syndrome (which increases the risk of hemorrhaging).
Eclampsia is the most common complication of Preeclampsia and will usually start after the beginning of the third trimester. The warning signs of Eclampsia are the symptoms of Preeclampsia, but Eclampsia can sometimes occur without warning signs.
Eclampsia is characterized by an eclamptic convulsion which may resemble an epileptic seizure and which first causes stiffness of the limbs and seizures that can lead to loss of consciousness or even coma. Eclampsia is sometimes triggered by giving birth or may even occur sometime after. In about 50 % of the cases of women who had Preeclampsia and who were not treated, the baby or the mother did not survive.
Prevent and treat Preeclampsia
To prevent Eclampsia, physicians routinely test for signs of renal disease such as hypertension and the presence of proteins in the urine in addition to looking for symptoms like edema, which announce the presence of Preeclampsia. If you only have mild Preeclampsia: that is to say that your blood pressure is only slightly elevated, and you have no other symptoms, your doctor may allow you to go home but will most likely prescribe bed rest.
If your condition does not improve after a few days, you will be hospitalized under medical supervision, and your doctor may decide to administer magnesium sulfate, which reduces the risk of seizures and also helps lower your blood pressure. It the treatment doesn’t work, you will have to give birth as fast as possible to reduce the risk of complications that could put your life or your baby’s life at risk. Your doctor will usually administer medications that trigger labor. If you can’t give birth naturally, a cesarean section will be recommended.
The majority of women with Preeclampsia heal without any further medical problems and will not necessarily develop Preeclampsia in their future pregnancies. In only 5 % to 10 % of cases, Preeclampsia will lead to cerebral, renal or cardiac conditions long term.