Your Ultimate Guide to Understanding Pre-eclampsia



What is pre-eclampsia? What should you know when pregnant?

In this Article:

  1. What is Pre-eclampsia?
  2. Pre-eclampsia Risk Factors
  3. Pre-eclampsia Symptoms
  4. Pre-eclampsia Causes
  5. What Are Some Complications of Pre-eclampsia?
  6. What Questions Will My Doctor Ask Me?
  7. How Do they Test for Pre-eclampsia?
  8. What Tests May be Needed for Pre-eclampsia?
  9. Preeclampsia Treatment Options

Have you searched Google looking to learn more about pre-eclampsia? Then you are definitely not alone as it is often a concern for most pregnant women.

My goal here is to help answer some common questions you may have about pre-eclampsia. Please write down all questions you may have and seek professional advice from your doctor. This should only be used as a guide.

What is Pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia can occur during pregnancy and is characterised by high blood pressure. It will often start 20 weeks+ of pregnancy in a woman whose blood pressure had been normal.

This is why you will notice your doctor taking your blood pressure each time you have a check-up. Even a slight increase in your blood pressure may be a sign of pre-eclampsia and will need to be monitored closely.

It will likely be diagnosed during a routine prenatal exam. If you have preeclampsia you will likely have additional visits with your obstetrician so they can monitor you and baby closely.

Your Blood Pressure Reading

A blood pressure reading in excess of 140/90 mm Hg is abnormal in pregnancy. However, a single high blood pressure reading does not mean you have pre-eclampsia.

Having a second abnormal blood pressure reading four hours after the first may confirm your doctor’s suspicion of preeclampsia. Your doctor may request additional blood pressure readings and blood and urine tests.

What is Preeclampsia

What if You Have Pre-eclampsia?

If you are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia it can be quite frightening at first. You should learn as much as possible about pre-eclampsia and ask your doctor all the questions you need to know more.

Pre-eclampsia must be treated and managed. If it is left untreated it can lead to serious complications for both you and your baby. It is important that you attend all of your prenatal appointments so that your health care professional can monitor your blood pressure.

Risk Factors Pre-eclampsia

1. If You Have a History of High Blood Pressure

Having a personal (or family) history of preeclampsia will significantly increase your risks.

2. If You Have a History of Certain Health Conditions

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, chronic high blood pressure, migraine headaches, kidney disease, a tendency to develop blood clots, or lupus then you will be at an increased risk of pre-eclampsia.

3. If it is Your First pregnancy

The risk of developing pre-eclampsia is highest during your first pregnancy.

4. New paternity

Each pregnancy with a new partner increases the risk of pre-eclampsia over a second or third pregnancy with the same partner.

5. Your Age

If you are over 40 years of age then you will be at an increased risk of pre-eclampsia.

6. If you are Excessively Overweight or Obese

The risk of pre-eclampsia is higher if you’re obese.

7. If you are Carrying More than One Baby

Pre-eclampsia is more common in women who are carrying twins, triplets or other multiples.

8. Interval between pregnancies

If you have babies less than two years or more than 10 years apart leads to a higher risk of pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia Symptoms

Pre-eclampsia Symptoms

Receiving a high blood pressure reading during your appointment is the first sign of pre-eclampsia (not always) and your doctor will monitor this more closely. Your blood pressure may increase suddenly or slowly over time.

Monitoring your blood pressure is an important part of prenatal care.

Other Symptoms May Include:

  1. Severe headaches.
  2. Nausea or vomiting.
  3. Excess protein in your urine (proteinuria).
  4. Changes in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision or light sensitivity.
  5. Edema – sudden weight gain and swelling.
  6. Shortness of breath, caused by fluid in your lungs.
  7. Impaired liver function.
  8. Upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right side.

Causes of Pre-eclampsia

Unfortunately, the exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, but experts believe it begins in the placenta.

Possible Causes May Include:

  1. Blood vessel damage.
  2. Insufficient blood flow to the uterus.
  3. Immune system problems.
  4. Specific genes.

Other High Blood Pressure Disorders during Pregnancy?

1. Gestational hypertension

Some women with gestational hypertension eventually develop preeclampsia. Women with gestational hypertension have high blood pressure but no excess protein in their urine or other signs of organ damage.

2. Chronic hypertension

Chronic hypertension is when high blood pressure was present before pregnancy or that occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

3. Chronic hypertension with superimposed pre-eclampsia

Chronic hypertension with superimposed pre-eclampsia can occur in women who have chronic high blood pressure before pregnancy who then develop increasing high blood pressure and protein in the urine or other health complications during pregnancy.

What Are Some Complications of Pre-eclampsia?

You are at increased risk of placental abruption which is where the placenta separates from the inner wall of your uterus before delivery. This can cause heavy bleeding and damage to the placenta.

It affects the arteries carrying blood to the placenta and if the placenta doesn’t get enough blood, your baby may receive less oxygen and fewer nutrients which can lead to slow growth, low birth weight or preterm birth.

When pre-eclampsia is not controlled, eclampsia can develop. Symptoms include eclampsia include upper right abdominal pain, severe headache, vision problems and change in mental status, such as decreased alertness.

Pre-eclampsia Symptoms

You may be at greater risk of future heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease. If you have severe preeclampsia or you’re at less than 30 weeks gestation, a C-section may be necessary.

You may require induced labour and delivery. The earlier it occurs in your pregnancy, the greater the risk for you and baby. The more severe it is, the greater the risk for you and baby.

What Questions Will My Doctor Ask Me?

1. Did you experience high blood pressure with any previous pregnancies?

2. Have you previously had high blood pressure?

3. Have you had complications during a previous pregnancy?

4. Is this your first pregnancy?

5. Is this your first pregnancy with this baby’s father?

6. Have you had any unusual symptoms lately (blurred vision or headaches)

7. Do you ever feel pain in your upper abdomen?

8. Do you have any other ongoing health conditions?

What Should You Take to Your Doctor’s Appointment?

1. Make a note of any symptoms you are experiencing.

2. Make a list of all medications you are taking including vitamins and supplements.

3. For support take along your partner, close friend or a family member.

Write Down Any Questions You May Have As You Think of Them

Here are some common questions to ask your doctor:

1. Will I need a caesarean?

2. Has will pre-eclampsia affect my baby?

3. How often do you need to see me?

4. How will you monitor my baby’s health?

5. What treatments are available and do I need them?

6. Is it safe to continue the pregnancy?

7. What are the warning signs I need to look out for?

8. How can I best manage my other health conditions if I also have preeclampsia?

In addition to the questions that you’ve prepared, don’t hesitate to ask questions that occur to you during your appointment.

Test for Pre-eclampsia
How Do they Test for Pre-eclampsia?

It is possible to have pre-eclampsia yet never have protein in the urine. To diagnose pre-eclampsia, you have to have high blood pressure and one or more of the following complications after the 20th week of pregnancy:

1. New-onset headaches.

2. Visual problems.

3. Protein in your urine (proteinuria).

4. Impaired liver function.

5. Signs of kidney trouble other than protein in the urine.

6. Fluid in the lungs.

7. Low platelet count.

What Tests May be Needed for Pre-eclampsia?

1. Foetal ultrasound

A foetal ultrasound may be recommended to monitor your baby’s growth. This will allow your doctor to estimate foetal weight and the amount of fluid in the uterus (amniotic fluid).

2. Blood tests

A blood test can determine how well your liver and kidneys are functioning and whether your blood has a normal number of platelets.

3. Urine analysis

A single urine sample that measures the ratio of protein to creatinine may be used to make the diagnosis.

4. Non-stress test or biophysical profile

A non-stress test is a procedure that checks how your baby’s heart rate reacts when your baby moves.

A biophysical profile combines an ultrasound with a non-stress test to provide more information about your baby’s breathing, tone, movement and the volume of amniotic fluid in your uterus.

Preeclampsia Treatment Options

1. Bed rest
2. Hospitalization
3. Medications to lower blood pressure.
4. Corticosteroids
5. Anticonvulsant medications.
6. Delivery – The only cure is delivery!

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