Perhaps one of the most notorious afflictions that can occur during pregnancy is preeclampsia, a dangerous condition that affects around 5-8% of all pregnancies. Its notoriety comes from its unclear cause, the severity of its complications, and the difficulty of managing the condition. However, with proper detection and treatment, you can manage preeclampsia, and in many cases, the pregnancy can proceed normally. Knowing more about this condition can help mothers-to-be become more prepared to deal with this condition.
What is Preeclampsia in Pregnancy?
At its core, preeclampsia is the manifestation of two events during pregnancy: high blood pressure, and damage to the liver or kidneys. It usually occurs during the second trimester in women who had normal blood pressure before and during the first few months of pregnancy. However, a variant called postpartum preeclampsia can also occur after birth. Whatever the time of occurrence, uncontrolled preeclampsia can have lethal consequences for you and your baby, so early detection and management is crucial. As explained later, the most effective treatment for preeclampsia is the delivery of the baby, which can be problematic if the onset of the condition is too early to ensure safe delivery.
What Causes Preeclampsia?
Experts used to call preeclampsia the “disease of theories” due to the confusing variety of proposed causes of the condition. Nowadays, while there is some consensus already, the origins of preeclampsia are still active areas of research. Many theories focus on how the placenta interacts with the mother’s body. It is possible that there are problems with how placental blood vessels attached to the blood vessels of the mother, restricting blood supply to the baby. It is also possible that the placenta sends excessive amounts of chemical messengers into the maternal bloodstream, causing the body to mount a damaging inflammatory response against the placenta.
Symptoms and Complications
High blood pressure is the most prevalent symptom of preeclampsia, so many of its symptoms are similar to those found in high blood pressure. For instance, the following may occur:
- body fluid retention
- reduced urination
- rapid weight gain
- changes in vision
Pregnant women with preeclampsia can also experience no symptoms. However, you need to contact your OB-GYN immediately if you have the following signs of severe preeclampsia:
- sudden swelling near face, hands, and eyes
- blood pressure readings above 130/80
- severe and sudden disturbances in vision
- heavy abdominal pain
Preeclampsia can be very dangerous, as it can limit the amount of blood that the baby receives during pregnancy, increasing the chances of your baby having learning or developmental disabilities as well as problems with vision or hearing. In rare cases, the condition can cause stroke, seizures, heart complications, and even blindness. Finally, preeclampsia can cause placental abruption, where the placenta disconnects from the uterus, causing stillbirth.
Treatment and Prevention
As mentioned earlier, the best cure for preeclampsia is the delivery of the baby, as the symptoms disappear rather quickly postpartum. If the pregnancy is already beyond 37 weeks, then it is usually safe to induce labor. Your baby won’t be considered immature anymore if born by this period. If your baby is younger than 37 weeks, your doctor will discuss how far your baby has developed. He or she will also discuss the overall health of you and your baby, as labor may still be induced. Of course, this will result in premature birth, your baby will require special treatment for several weeks, and it is possible for your baby not to survive the early delivery. Other options include continuing to carry the baby and attempting to manage the condition.
For patients who will try to control the symptoms of preeclampsia, they will need antihypertensive medication. This medicine will help to reduce their high blood pressure. They might also get medicine to suppress seizures, as this is a common complication of preeclampsia. Sometimes, pregnant women get steroid medication to help the baby develop faster and to hasten delivery of the baby. The mother may be admitted to the hospital. In that way, the doctor can monitor the patient more closely and tend to any possible injuries.