How To Deal With Pre-Eclampsia In Pregnancy

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Keep a close eye on your blood pressure

Pre-eclampsia presents with high blood pressure (hypertension), oedema (swelling) and proteinuria (protein in the urine). If left untreated, the condition can turn into dangerous eclampsia with symptoms including convulsions, coma and even death. More pregnant women today are at risk for pre-eclampsia because of our diets and lifestyles, which make us susceptible to hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Eclampsia is more likely to happen with a first baby, or when very young or older women have their first babies (those younger than 16 or over 40).

The symptoms for this rare but predictable condition are well known and doctors and midwives are on the lookout for telltale signs of pre-eclampsia from 20 weeks’ gestation. Once eclampsia develops, it is very difficult to manage and is usually only resolved when the baby is delivered – often prematurely.

Description: Eclampsia is more likely to happen with a first baby

Eclampsia is more likely to happen with a first baby

Pre-eclampsia used to be called “toxaemia of pregnancy”, suggesting that it was caused by a toxin or poison that made the mother’s body reject her baby. Today we know that eclampsia is a placenta-related problem that begins with high blood pressure.

Who is at risk?

Women with a family history of this condition, women who had pre-eclampsia before, those who have a big gap between pregnancies, overweight women, women who suffer with chronic headaches and migraines and previous kidney problems are more likely to develop pre-eclampsia.

Women with auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are also at risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

What are the symptoms and what should you do?

Eclampsia can develop over a few weeks, or it can start suddenly. Typical symptoms include fluid retention with sudden and unexplained weight gain and swelling, particularly in the hands, feet and face. The blood pressure goes up and protein is found in the urine when it’s tested. Women with symptoms may also see spots, feel dizzy and nauseous and complain of abdominal pain.

Description: blood pressure during pregnancy

Blood pressure during pregnancy

Prolonged hypertension damages the kidneys and during pregnancy this affects mother and baby. Less blood flow to the placenta means a small-for-dates baby. Another complication is the risk the placenta tearing away from the wall of the womb, and that can lead to interuterine death. Underperforming kidneys spill valuable proteins into the urine. Preeclampsia can lead to kidney failure and other very serious complications.

Women with symptoms of preeclampsia must go to their nearest doctor or clinic straight away. If the symptoms are serious, the woman will be admitted to hospital and be given tablets (diuretics) to get rid of excess body fluids; she may have a drip with magnesium sulphate to lower blood pressure and prevent convulsions. She will also have to stay in hospital at bed rest until symptoms improve, either to prolong the pregnancy or to stabilize her condition in preparation for a c - section – even if the baby is premature.

Description: Women with symptoms of preeclampsia must go to their nearest doctor or clinic straight away.

Women with symptoms of preeclampsia must go to their nearest doctor or clinic straight away.

Because eclampsia can occur without warning any time after 20 weeks, a woman is carefully monitored for telltale signs at every antenatal visit.

·         She is weighed.

·         Her blood pressure is checked (hypertension is diagnosed when it remains at 140/90 mm Hg).

·         Urine is tested for protein.

·         Hands, feet and face are checked for swelling or oedema.

“Finding the cause and treating it before pregnancy will help to protect your kidneys”

Very occasionally it happens that women become eclampsia two to four days after giving birth. Treatment is the same as above, but she may have to stay in hospital for longer depending on how severe the condition was. Once home, she must have her blood pressure checked at least every two weeks for the first few months. If it remains high, this may indicate another medical condition that warrants investigation and treatment.

What to do

A woman should be the right weight for her height and her blood pressure should be normal before she becomes pregnant. Although this will not guarantee a problem-free pregnancy, it reduces the risks for complications. It has also been suggested that women should be tested for vitamin D deficiencies because this is thought to have something to do with pre-eclampsia. Repetitive urinary tract infections could indicate kidney problems. Finding the cause and treating it before pregnancy will help to protect your kidneys.

Adding less salt to food and limiting fluids has not been found to be helpful preventing or treating pre-eclampsia. Unfortunately, if you’re going to get it, there seems to be nothing you can do to stop it. But it’s important that symptoms are picked up early so that women can be treated quickly.

If the doctor has no choice but to deliver the baby early, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit will be on standby to take care of the baby. Once Mom has recovered from surgery she can begin kangaroo-mother-care with her baby.

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