Pre-eclampsia affects as many as 10 per cent of pregnancies. It is a serious condition that can affect both mother and baby. Pre-eclampsia can reduce blood flow to the placenta. If your baby does not receive enough nutrients and oxygen through the placenta, growth may be restricted. Pre-eclampsia usually occurs during the later half of the pregnancy. Women are most at risk of developing the condition after week 27.
If left untreated, pre-eclampsia can become eclampsia. Eclampsia is a serious condition that can, in rare cases, be fatal. The earlier pre-eclampsia is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat and manage. It is important you stay on the look out for symptoms of this condition.
What causes pre-eclampsia?
The exact cause of pre-eclampsia has not yet been determined, although it is believed to be related to placental malfunction. You have an increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia if:
- This is your first pregnancy.
- Your mother or sister has previously been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.
- You have had pre-eclampsia before.
- You are over age 40.
- You had a pre-pregnancy BMI of over 30.
- You are carrying multiple pregnancies.
Symptoms of pre-eclampsia
Pre-eclampsia requires immediate treatment, so it’s important you know how to spot the signs. Contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Excessive swelling, or edema, of the hands, feet or face
- High blood pressure
- Protein in your urine
- Severe headaches
- Visual disturbances
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
Your healthcare provider will run a series of tests to diagnose pre-eclampsia.Your urine and blood pressure will be tested, and you may require blood tests as well.
Treatment for pre-eclampsia
If you are admitted to hospital with pre-eclampsia, it is unlikely you will be discharged before the birth. Although some of the symptoms are treatable, the disease itself is progressive. The only way to treat pre-eclampsia, is to deliver the baby. Your healthcare provider will treat the symptoms of the condition with medication, bed rest and monitoring, until it is safe for your baby to be born.
At each antenatal appointment, your blood pressure will be taken, and a urine test will be performed. These tests aim to detect pre-eclampsia early. Often, there are no other symptoms, so it is vital you attend all of your antenatal appointments. If you are forced to cancel an appointment, make sure that you reschedule it straight away.
After the birth
You will be required to stay in hospital for a few days after the birth, so your blood pressure can be monitored. Most women find their blood pressure normalises within weeks of giving birth.
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