I have heard about women getting pre-eclampsia and I know it’s dangerous– what is it? What are the symptoms?”
Preeclampsia is a rare-but-serious form of high blood pressure (hypertension) that can show up after the 20th week of pregnancy, and sometimes for the first time in the six weeks after birth. What happens is a mother’s blood pressure readings will shoot up and tests will show the presence of protein in her urine for no apparent reason and often with no warning, though it sometimes comes with swelling, a headache, vision changes, nausea and/or sharp pains in your back and under your rib cage. The only cure is delivery of the baby, and treatment with magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures and organ damage. The out-of-nowhere nature of preeclampsia is why regular prenatal checks of blood pressure and urine are so important.
Pre-eclampsia affects about 2-8 percent of pregnancies, and about 15 percent of women who develop preeclampsia will go on to develop a more serious blood condition called HELLP syndrome that can cause placental abruption, and it can cause seizures and organ damage.
The causes of preeclampsia are not known, though research is ongoing, the Preeclampsia Foundation posts research developments on their web site. More recent theories involve an overproduction of protein by the placenta. A recent study of over 1,800 women found that taking multivitamins from 3 months before pregnancy through 3 months after conception appeared to reduce the risk of preeclampsia by as much as 72 percent, so nutritional status seems to be connected. Being overweight or smoking before becoming pregnant also appear to increase a woman’s risk.
But other than being in good shape before pregnancy and taking your vitamins, there really isn’t anything you can do to prevent preeclampsia. Just be alert to the symptoms, have your blood pressure and urine checked at your prenatal appointments, and don’t hesitate to call your health provider if something doesn’t feel right to you.