Understanding preeclampsia: Risk factors, symptoms and treatment

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that only occurs during pregnancy. It usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy. Left untreated, pre-eclampsia can lead to serious complications such as liver and kidney failure, seizures, and blood clotting problems. Severe cases can lead to maternal and infant death.

What Causes Preeclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is thought to be placental in origin, but the exact mechanism is unknown. “There’s usually increased blood flow resistance from the placenta to the baby,” explains Carly Jennings, M.D., Ph.D., Nebraska Department of Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology. “This can lead to restricted fetal growth, abnormal blood flow through the placenta, and premature birth.

Certain conditions can put patients at an increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

  • multiple pregnancy
  • Older maternal age (35 years or older)
  • African American
  • first pregnancy
  • chronic hypertension
  • pre-pregnancy diabetes
  • assisted reproductive medicine

What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia?

People with preeclampsia often have high blood pressure (above 140/90). They may also have high urine protein levels, a sign of renal dysfunction. Gestational hypertension is high blood pressure without protein in the urine.

“Pre-eclampsia is considered a leaky blood vessel disease that causes certain symptoms in mothers,” explains Dr. Jennings. “Increased swelling in the lower extremities is common, but swelling can also be seen in other areas such as the abdomen and hands.”

Other signs of pre-eclampsia are:

Sometimes preeclampsia has no symptoms. You may not know you have the infection until your doctor checks your blood pressure and urine during the prenatal visit. Always consult your doctor if you have symptoms.

What is the difference between preeclampsia, eclampsia and postpartum preeclampsia?

Eclampsia is a severe form of pre-eclampsia that causes seizures. Though considered a complication of pre-eclampsia, it can occur without being diagnosed. Rarely, eclampsia can lead to coma, stroke, or death.

Postpartum preeclampsia occurs after delivery. Symptoms usually begin within a few days to a week after delivery. Rarely, preeclampsia may begin several weeks after delivery.

What is the treatment for pre-eclampsia?

Doctors recommend treatment based on the severity of preeclampsia and the length of pregnancy. If you have gestational hypertension or pre-eclampsia without severe features, your doctor will monitor you closely in an outpatient setting. You can often give birth at 37 weeks. However, if the fetus’s growth is restricted by abnormal blood flow, doctors may recommend premature birth.

“If you have severe pre-eclampsia, you will be hospitalized for close monitoring of your blood pressure, laboratory and fetal health until you give birth at 34 weeks,” Dr. Jennings said. You can also give birth before 34 weeks if you need to support your health.”

Magnesium may be given intravenously during and after labor to prevent seizures from occurring. In most cases, delivery of the baby and placenta resolves preeclampsia. However, doctors will monitor it for several weeks to make sure the symptoms go away.

Why regular prenatal checkups are important

When pre-eclampsia is caught early, it can be treated and managed to keep you and your baby safe and healthy.phone 800.922.0000 Schedule an appointment with one of our OB-GYN doctors.

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