Preeclampsia is a medical disorder that generally occurs in women who are in the final stage of pregnancy i.e., 20 weeks and later. It is determined by the signs of high blood pressure along with increased levels of protein in the urine and swelling in the hands, legs, and feet due to fluid retention. Apart from that, it can also be determined by low platelet count in the blood, which denotes damage to the liver and the kidneys.
High blood pressure can even continue after delivery and might take about six weeks to disappear. If Preeclampsia is left to progress, it turns into eclampsia. This is a very critical condition in which the woman experiences seizures fatally affecting the baby as well as the mother’s life and can even cause death.
While giving birth can be the only cure for, but even then, the symptoms of Preeclampsia can still be experienced for a while. Getting diagnosed with Preeclampsia early in pregnancy can be a very challenging and difficult task for both the mother and the doctor. Let’s look in-depth at its causes, symptoms, and prevention methods.
Cause of Preeclampsia
There are no clear-cut answers as to why Preeclampsia occurs and what are the various things that cause it to develop. However, according to the doctors, the below points can trigger Preeclampsia in pregnant women:
- Genetic problems
- problems related to the blood vessels
- autoimmune complications
- Apart from that, some of the factors that increase the chances of developing Preeclampsia are:
- if the woman is above 35 years old
- in case the pregnant woman is a teenager
- if the woman is pregnant with more than one fetus
- in case the women is pregnant for the very first time
- if the woman already had issues with high blood pressure
- in case the woman had been,/is a diabetic
- if the woman had prior kidney disorders
- in case the woman is overweight
There is not a definitive measure that one can take to prevent this condition; however, the doctor might prescribe some mild dose of aspirin usually in the first trimester to help prevent the condition from developing. Just like with any other disease, the earlier Preeclampsia is diagnosed, the better are the chances of avoiding any sort of complications related to it.
Signs & Symptoms of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia does not always show signs and symptoms, so it can be very difficult to track them down. However, in most cases of women with Preeclampsia, they develop high blood pressure along with increased levels of protein in the urine. Most women who are not aware that they have Preeclampsia usually find out about it when they go for their routine checkups.
About 8 percent of all pregnant women experience hypertension during pregnancy, and so if someone does experience this, that does not necessarily mean that they have Preeclampsia. The most definite way it can be determined is if, along with hypertension, a woman also has high levels of protein in the urine.
Preeclampsia, as it starts to progress, also shows other signs like edema or fluid retention in the face, ankles, feet, and legs.
Just like high blood pressure, fluid retention is also very common in pregnant women. They experience it mainly in the later stages of pregnancy and usually occur in the lower half of the body, like the feet and around the ankles. Fluid retention is less severe in the morning and starts to get worse as the day progresses. During Preeclampsia, fluid retention is experienced suddenly and is very acute.
As the Preeclampsia progresses further, the patient might experience the following signs as well:
- severe headaches
- blurry vision
- weight gain due to edema
- pain below the right side of ribs
- low urine quantity
- low platelet count in the blood
- abnormal liver function
- being out of breath
Due to the severe decrease in the blood flow to the placenta, the fetuses of women with Preeclampsia experience impaired growth.
Prevention of Preeclampsia
Although Preeclampsia cannot be completely prevented, some steps and lifestyle changes can greatly decrease the severity of this disorder and also lower high blood pressure.
- consuming at least 6 to 8 glasses of water daily
- avoiding junk and processed food completely
- avoiding too much salt content in the diet
- getting regular workouts
- avoiding the consumption of caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee, and soda
- to reduce water retention keeping the feet elevated periodically
- taking plenty of rest
- taking supplements as they are prescribed
All the above can greatly reduce the chances of developing high blood pressure, thus reducing the chances of developing Preeclampsia.
- When does this problem occur in pregnancy?
Preeclampsia can be seen in any stage of pregnancy. However, it is usually seen in the third trimester of pregnancy of 20 weeks or later. It generally goes away within two days of giving birth, but sometimes it can continue for six weeks, even after delivery. Preeclampsia can develop slowly over time with no signs and symptoms, or it can suddenly occur within a few hours.
How does Preeclampsia affect the baby?
Preeclampsia causes premature births, and in terms of worldwide cases of it, Preeclampsia accounts for 20 percent of all 13 million babies born prematurely. A baby is said to be premature if it is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Some of these babies spend just a day or so under close observation, while some might spend months in intensive care units. This can be a great problem, especially for babies that are prematurely born in developing countries. Due to the lack of proper facilities, the survival rate of them is very low as compared to developed countries.
Babies born prematurely can have debilitating problems when they grow up like epilepsy, deafness, learning issues, etc.
The fetus of a woman with Preeclampsia can also develop Intrauterine Growth Restriction or IUGR. This is when the blood vessels connected to the placenta is too narrow to transfer enough blood and nutrition to the fetus. As a result, the fetus shows signs of growth retardation and malnutrition. Preeclampsia accounts for 14 percent of all 30 million babies born with Intrauterine Growth Restriction or IUGR. These babies are more susceptible to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiac problems.
Additionally, the fetus also develops a condition known as acidosis. Preeclampsia interferes with the flow of nutrition and oxygen from the placenta to the fetus; as a result, there is low blood flow to its limbs. When the level of oxygen in the fetus’s body becomes too low, it starts to produce high levels of lactic acid. If this happens, the baby loses consciousness and stops all movements. In that case, the baby needs to be delivered even if it’s premature.
There are many cases of infant deaths due to Preeclampsia. On average, around 10,500 babies die in the United States each year due to Preeclampsia. In terms of stillbirths, almost 2000 babies die in the United States each year. Preeclampsia has no definite cure, and so it gets all the more important to catch its signs early on and get treatment accordingly. Its early diagnosis can reduce preeclampsia instances, closer observation of the newborn, administering magnesium sulfate to avoid instances of maternal seizures, the use of steroids to help develop the infant’s lungs, opting for a safe and early delivery and giving special care for the prematurely born babies.
Preeclampsia also gives way to scores of disorders in babies that were prematurely born. In later years they develop hearing problems, blindness, learning problems, and even epilepsy. A specialized system for providing optimum care for the mother and the newborn babies helps a great deal in avoiding instances of serious casualties.
Who gets Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia, along with high blood pressure, is seen in almost 8% of women during pregnancy. It is most common during a woman’s first pregnancy. Some of the factors that increase the risk of developing Preeclampsia are:
- being diagnosed with Preeclampsia before
- being pregnant with more than one fetus
- having dealt with diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disorders before
- if it is the woman’s first time being pregnant
- being overweight
- if the woman is over 35 years old or below 20 years old
- if Preeclampsia runs in the family
- in case the woman has Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- if the woman has certain autoimmune complications like lupus, multiple sclerosis, etc.
- in case the woman got pregnant with the help of In-vitro fertilization
- if the woman has sickle cell disorder
- in case the ethnicity of the woman is African-American
Will you get Preeclampsia again?
If a woman had a normal first pregnancy, then it does not cause any problems in the next one. However, if the woman suffered from Preeclampsia earlier, then there is a chance of developing it again. If the woman is overweight, it is above 35 years or below 20 years of age, and the risk is even higher. It is, therefore, very important to stay alert and look for its signs early on and get appropriate treatment.
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Being pregnant is a very happy event in every woman’s life, and so in order to help in the optimum growth and protection of the growing fetus, it is very important to take proper care of oneself. One should eat healthily, take iron supplements, and go for regular checkups. But some instances occur even with following all that, Preeclampsia is one of those. It is, therefore, extremely important to look for its warning signs and get checked if the mother feels or experiences abnormal signs. With proper care and attention, casualties due to Preeclampsia can be completely avoided.