Preeclampsia: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Some pregnant women may experience preeclampsia, a condition characterized by hypertension, which can have dangerous effects on both the mother and baby. It’s important to understand the symptoms, risk factors, preventive measures and treatments for preeclampsia in order to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a complication that occurs specifically in pregnant women. High blood pressure and signs of damage to other organ systems, most commonly the liver and kidneys, indicate that preeclampsia may be occurring. In cases of severe preeclampsia, the fetus is not able to adequately receive blood and nutrients, which drastically impacts the baby’s development. Around 5-8% of pregnant women are diagnosed with this condition – usually after 20 weeks –  and the only solution to this complication is to deliver the baby. Therefore, the mother and the baby are closely monitored until it is safe to deliver the baby.

If left untreated or unnoticed, consequences can be grave for both the mother and baby. If you are pregnant and experience any of the symptoms of preeclampsia, see a doctor immediately.

Causes

The exact causes of preeclampsia are mostly out of the control of pregnant women and involve several unavoidable physical factors.

Insufficient Blood Flow

In the early stages of pregnancy, new blood vessels develop to send blood to the placenta more efficiently. When preeclampsia occurs, some of these blood vessels appear to develop insufficiently. Also, they are found to be narrower than normal blood vessels or to react poorly to hormonal signals, thereby limiting the necessary blood flow and nourishment to a growing placenta.

Pre-existing Conditions

The symptoms of other conditions, such as gestational hypertension or chronic hypertension, can make it difficult to recognize preeclampsia, but there are certain telltale signs. However, these pre-existing conditions affecting blood pressure can increase your risk of developing preeclampsia. Furthermore, if you are carrying multiple babies, have a history of preeclampsia in your family, are obese, or are older than 40, your chances for this condition are notably increased.

Symptoms

Some common symptoms also happen to be symptoms of a normal pregnancy, such as swelling, weight gain, and nausea. Therefore, it is extremely important to consult a doctor for specific hypertension and urine tests in order to determine if preeclampsia is occurring. It is also possible that pregnant women don’t experience any symptoms of preeclampsia, which can be particularly worrisome and is even more of a reason to regularly consult your doctor for tests throughout a pregnancy.

Swelling in Hands & Feet

While having some excess water storage may seem normal for some pregnant women, an excess of water retention is a good sign of high blood pressure. This may cause discomfort while you walk, sleep or wear shoes, and should not be assumed to simply be weight gain. You may experience sudden weight gain or a bloated feeling in your body, which can also be a sign that it’s time to see a doctor.

Excess Protein in Urine

Also known as proteinuria, this is often the most obvious symptom that points to preeclampsia. However, at each pre-natal checkup, you should have a urine test, among other basic exams, which can be a rapid indicator that this condition could be a problem for you, and preventative measures or treatments can be aggressively pursued.

Severe Symptoms

If left untreated, some of the more severe symptoms can include clouded vision, headaches, pain in the abdomen, fatigue, weakness, fainting, seizures, or extreme infrequency in urination. This can mean that the preeclampsia is in a serious state and requires immediate attention.

No Symptoms

As mentioned, one of the most worrying situations is when there are no symptoms at all. Without symptoms, you could still be putting yourself and your child in danger, so regular checkups and urine tests throughout your pregnancy are highly recommended.

Tests

The tests for preeclampsia are quite simple, and most cases of preeclampsia can be detected during normal pre-natal check-ups, either through a blood test, urine test, or simple observation of weight gain. More in-depth tests include a blood test that can detect specific syndromes, as well as the presence of uric acid in elevated levels.  You will also provide urine samples over a 24-hour period to measure protein levels, and test kidney functions with the help of a creatinine clearance test. With the help of various tools, doctors can make an accurate diagnosis

Treatments for Preeclampsia

As stated above, the only cure for this condition is the delivery of the baby, but this isn’t always possible, particularly if the symptoms of preeclampsia appear earlier than the 20th week. The best options for formal treatment include resting the body and taking various medications to counter the symptoms.

Bed Rest

While traditional recommendations often suggest bed rest to lower blood pressure, this can also elevate the risk for blood clots. Only take bed rest if your doctor recommends it.

Medications

Blood pressure-lowering medications and corticosteroids are commonly used to prevent some of the worst symptoms of preeclampsia and help to speed the development process in the infant, if you are preparing for a pre-term birth.

How to Prevent Preeclampsia

If you want to lower your risk for this condition, avoid having high blood pressure before getting pregnant. This means exercising more, maintaining a strictly healthy diet with low sodium, and controlling any weight fluctuations.

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