The medical condition of high blood pressure during pregnancy is known as Preeclampsia. It is a medical complication usually experienced by women in their third trimester of pregnancy. It is determined by high blood pressure and the presence of high levels of protein in the urine. Additionally, it is also determined by disorders of major organs like kidneys and the liver, low platelet count in the blood, and fluid retention in the ankles, feet, hands, and the face.
If it is not treated on time, it develops into eclampsia, in which case the life of the baby and the mother is highly compromised. The mother also experiences seizures. Its signs and symptoms are very hard to detect, but it is advisable to look for its early signs like high blood pressure along with high levels of protein in the urine. Apart from that its signs and symptoms also include:
- severe headaches
- shortness of breath
- pain in the abdomen
- poor or blurry vision
- severe anxiety and restlessness
Preeclampsia and its associated complications affect almost 5 to 8 percent of all pregnant women. Usually, Preeclampsia affected women have healthy pregnancies and do not experience any sort of complications whatsoever. However, for some women, that might not be the case as the complications arising due to Preeclampsia may give birth to more serious conditions later on. It can render a child blind, deaf, and can also affect their learning abilities in later life.
One thing to note here is that all these complications can be managed and avoided easily if only its signs are caught early on. As soon as the diagnosis is done, the doctor will recommend certain measures to stop it from progressing further. Let’s look at what are its risk factors and also dive into its diagnosis and treatment options.
Risk Factors Related to Preeclampsia
While having high blood pressure and high protein levels in the urine can help detect Preeclampsia early on, some risk factors increase the risk of someone developing it.
- if a woman is below 20 years or above 35 years of age
- a woman belongs to the African-American ethnicity
- if it is the woman’s first pregnancy
- the woman gave birth less than two years ago or is pregnant after 10 years of a previous birth
- if the woman’s second baby is from a different father than the earlier one
- the woman suffered from high blood pressure prior to being pregnant
- if the woman suffered from Preeclampsia earlier
- Preeclampsia runs in the woman’s family
- if the woman is overweight
- the woman is carrying more than one fetus
- if the woman conceived with the help of IVF or In-vitro fertilization
- the woman had diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney issues, and lupus prior to conceiving
A pregnant woman is said to have Preeclampsia if along with high blood pressure the following signs are also seen:
- high levels of protein in the urine
- low count of platelets in the blood
- if the level of chemicals related to the kidney is high in the blood
- the level of chemicals related to the liver is high in the blood
- there is presence of fluid build up in the lungs
- instances of severe headaches that do not seem to go away even with medication
To confirm if these are Preeclampsia related symptoms, the patient needs to go through two different tests.
Hypertension in pregnant women is quite common, but if the reading of the blood pressure meter is above 140/90, it is considered abnormal.
For this test, samples of the patient’s urine is collected for over 12 hours. The level of protein found in the urine denotes the level of severity of Preeclampsia. Apart from these tests the doctor also recommends some follow up tests like:
A blood test helps to determine if the kidneys and the liver are working properly and whether there are enough platelets in the blood to assist clotting.
In this test, the fetus’s growth is closely examined to make sure it is growing properly while also looking for any abnormalities.
In this test, the baby’s heart rate is monitored when it is moving. If the heartbeat augments by 15 beats or more for 15 seconds two times within a time period of 20 minutes, this denotes that everything is normal.
Complications of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia, if it is not treated, can cause many life-threatening conditions. Conditions that put into danger both the mother’s and the baby’s life. Complications stemming from Preeclampsia is completely avoidable if the mother goes for regular checkups. If there is any delay in recognizing its symptoms, the risk of its complications gets higher.
Below are some serious complications that can develop due to Preeclampsia
HELLP or hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count
It is that condition when there are blood clotting and liver problem occurring in a woman’s body simultaneously right after delivery or when they are in their third trimester of pregnancy. It is a fatal condition for both the baby and the mother. The only way to treat it is to deliver the baby safely as early as possible.
Impaired blood flow to the placenta
As a result of narrow blood vessels due to Preeclampsia, there is impaired blood flow and oxygen from the placenta of the mother to the fetus. As a result, the baby is not able to grow properly, and it can even develop breathing issues. Not only that, but there is also a great risk of premature birth as well.
Disintegration of placenta
Due to Preeclampsia, sometimes the placenta detaches itself from the uterine wall. If there is profuse bleeding, the placenta can get seriously damaged as well. In that case, both the mother’s and the baby’s lives are highly compromised.
Eclampsia is seen at a later stage of Preeclampsia. Here the mother experiences seizures accompanied by intense headaches, pain under the rib area usually in the right side of the body, impaired or blurry vision, and confusion. If it is not treated on time, there is a risk of the mother going into a coma, suffering fatal brain tissue damage, and even death. Eclampsia is equally dangerous for the baby.
If a woman develops Preeclampsia, there is a greater chance of developing heart problems later on.
Preeclampsia is indeed a very serious condition, and getting it diagnosed as early as possible is the only way to treat it. High blood pressure in itself is a serious condition that can heavily affect the baby’s learning skills later in life and can also cause blindness, deafness, and epilepsy.
Treatment for Preeclampsia
The most effective way of treating Preeclampsia is by delivering the baby as soon as possible. However, many factors come into play when it comes to the doctor’s decision to treat Preeclampsia, like the number of weeks of pregnancy the patient is at, the age and health condition of the mother, the health condition of the baby and the pace at which Preeclampsia is progressing. This takes into consideration test results that denote blood pressure, overall condition of the liver, kidneys, and if there are enough platelets in the blood to assist blood clotting. If the gestational period is more than 37 weeks, delivery is induced while if it is less than 37 weeks, the doctor usually keeps both the mother and the baby under observation and decides on the right delivery time.
Women who experience high blood pressure during pregnancy are at a very high risk of experiencing seizures, strokes, heavy bleeding, and placenta separation from the uterine wall. It is, therefore, imperative to keep an eye on its early signs and to take part in regular prenatal checkups. During these checkups, the following medications are prescribed:
Antihypertensives are the types of medically prescribed drugs that are used to bring down the level of high blood pressure during pregnancy.
These are used to prevent seizures in the mother. Anticonvulsants medications include magnesium sulfate.
These medications help in improving the platelet count in the blood, also augmenting the development of the fetus’s lungs, and improving liver functioning.
If the mother is not showing any signs of severe Preeclampsia, then they are simply advised to take plenty of rest. Because when the heart is at rest, the blood pressure stays normal. Normal blood pressure ensures increased blood flow towards the placenta, which, in turn, is extremely beneficial to the baby.
Normally Preeclampsia signs and symptoms get better after giving birth, and blood pressure drops to normal levels within two days of it. Even kidney and liver issues also get resolved after delivery. However, since blood pressure can sometimes rise after a few days of giving birth, it is imperative to go for regular checkups and blood pressure monitoring.
Follow up care is also important to those women that have had normal deliveries devoid of any sort of complications. Although it is rare, sometimes these women can develop postnatal Preeclampsia. And if they notice the signs of Preeclampsia, they should see a doctor as soon as possible.