Preeclampsia: Can You Survive It During Pregnancy?

Visiting a fetal medicine center is very important when you’re pregnant because it helps you keep track of you and your future baby’s health. There will be regular monitoring to make sure your pregnancy will go smoothly and to help avoid complications in the future, such as preeclampsia.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a complication during pregnancy when the expecting mom has high blood pressure or when protein is found in her urine on one of the regular tests done. Some women suffer from hand, feet and leg swelling. The cases vary from mild to severe.

This condition usually happens later in the pregnancy. During the 20th week of pregnancy, the mom’s normal blood pressure spikes up. In some cases, it happens earlier or just after delivery, also referred to as postpartum preeclampsia. The symptoms can last one to six weeks or longer, and the recovery takes time.

Preeclampsia should not be left untreated because it can lead to a more serious condition called eclampsia. This condition also occurs during pregnancy, or in rare cases, just after delivery. It posts health risks to the mom and the baby, and can even lead to death.

Early diagnosis helps because your doctor can plan carefully how to let your baby mature without putting them and you at risk for serious complications.

What causes preeclampsia?

Medical experts still cannot point out the single cause of preeclampsia, but many of them believe it all starts in the placenta. This organ is responsible for nourishing the fetus during pregnancy. Medical experts think, when this organ doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to, preeclampsia and eclampsia happen, but why this organ malfunctions is still unclear to them.

During pregnancy, new blood vessels develop, but for women with this condition, their blood vessels are underdeveloped or not functioning properly. They’re narrower than the normal ones and they react differently to the signals sent by the hormones. This abnormal development of blood vessels might be because of a damage in the vessels, an immune system problem, not enough blood flow to the uterus, or a certain type of gene.

Not a single cause is identified but here are some potential factors that contribute to the condition:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Blood vessel problems
  • Poor nutrition
  • High body fat
  • Lack of blood flow to the uterus
  • Genetic factors

What are the risk factors?

These risk factors can increase the chances of developing the condition:

  • First-time pregnancy. If it’s your first pregnancy, the risk of developing this condition is high.
  • Pregnant during early teens. The risk is high for women who got pregnant during their early teens.
  • Over 35 years of age. The risk is also high for women who got pregnant when they are over 35 years of age.
  • Race. African-American women have higher risk of developing the condition.
  • Obesity. If you’re obese, you’re at high risk.
  • Multiple pregnancy. The risk is high if you’re carrying twin, triplets or multiple fetuses.
  • In vitro fertilization. The risk is higher if you conceived your baby through IVF.
  • Chronic hypertension. If you’re already experiencing chronic hypertension, you’re at high risk.
  • High blood pressure history. If you have a history of high blood, the risk is higher.
  • Kidney disorder history. If you have a history of kidney disorder, the risk is higher.
  • Diabetes history. If you have a history of diabetes, the risk is higher.
  • Preeclampsia history. If you, your mom or your sister has a history of preeclampsia, you’re at a higher risk of getting it.
  • High or low pregnancy interval. The risk is higher if your pregnancy interval is more than 10 years or less than two years.
  • New partner. For every pregnancy you have that involves a new partner, your risk is higher.

What are the symptoms?

The condition happens during early pregnancy, usually the 20th week, but the symptoms are often experienced after the 34th week, and in some cases, after birth. They can last from one to 12 weeks.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Sudden/abnormal swelling in face and hands
  • Protein in urine
  • Slowly developing high blood pressure
  • Sudden onset of high blood pressure
  • Signs of kidney problem
  • Belly pain, usually on the upper right side under the ribs
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Persistent or severe headaches
  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Reflex change
  • Vision changes (blurred vision, floaters, light sensitivity, including temporary vision loss)
  • Decrease in urine output or nothing at all

Some women don’t experience symptoms at all, which is why it’s important to visit a fetal medicine center for regular prenatal care.

What are the complications?

Women who have preeclampsia commonly give birth to very small babies. Premature births also have complications such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and vision and hearing problems.

Other serious but rare complications include:

  • Bleeding problems after birth
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Placental abruption (placenta separates from uterine wall)
  • Organ damage (including eyes, kidneys, lung, liver, heart)
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart and blood vessel)
  • Eclampsia (harmful to both mom and baby)

How is it diagnosed?

If you have the commons signs like high blood pressure, swelling, and headaches that don’t go away with medication, your doctor can confirm through these diagnostic tests:

  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Non-stress test
  • Ultrasound
  • Biophysical profile

What are the treatments?

The most recommended treatment is delivery because it prevents the condition from progressing. If you’re already in your 37th week, your doctor may induce labor, since it’s safe for you to deliver your baby at this point because your baby is already developed enough. But if you’re less than 37 weeks, your doctor will decide on the best time to deliver the baby, considering several factors, including the severity of your case, your baby’s gestational age, and your labor status.

Other treatments include medications that decrease blood pressure, prevent seizures as well as preeclampsia complications.