Women’s health spotlight: Pre-eclampsia

PREGNANT women with pre-eclampsia won’t often feel sick — instead they may have mild symptoms, to include swelling in the hands or face, weight gain over one or two days, or weight gain of more than two pounds per week. But ignored, pre-eclampsia, which happens in around one of 20 pregnancies, usually in the third trimester, can cause organ damage, stroke and preterm birth.

Pre-eclampsia is one of the pregnancy-related high blood pressure disorders which are among the leading causes of maternal death worldwide. It can lead to problems during and after birth, and as such it’s important for pregnant women to keep their blood pressure in a healthy range.

A woman who consistently struggles with an elevated blood pressure is at risk of developing pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, stroke, the need for labour induction (giving medicine to start labour to give birth), and placental abruption (the placenta separating from the wall of the uterus), as well as abnormalities in her body’s clotting function, kidney and liver functions. Named hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, conditions like pre-eclampsia are believed to complicate up to 10 per cent of all pregnancies. And these conditions — which also include gestational hypertension and chronic hypertension — not only affect the mother, but may significantly threaten the health of the foetus.

The Mayo Clinic says with pre-eclampsia, a woman might have high blood pressure, high levels of protein in her urine that indicate kidney damage (proteinuria), or other signs of organ damage.

What to check for

An accurate measurement of blood pressure is crucial to the diagnosis and management of hypertensive disorders in pregnancy. If you have high blood pressure in pregnancy, keep track of your blood pressure at home with a home blood pressure monitor. If your blood pressure is higher than usual or if you have symptoms of pre-eclampsia, you must contact your doctor or get it checked out at the hospital.

Symptoms

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia include:

•A headache that will not go away

•Changes in vision, including blurry vision, seeing spots, or having changes in eyesight

•Pain in the upper stomach area

•Nausea or vomiting

•Swelling of the face or hands

•Sudden weight gain

•Trouble breathing or shortness of breath.

Treatment

The doctor may provide medication that will help with controlling elevated blood pressure. He may also recommend that the woman stays active by doing light, safe exercises such as walking; that she limits her salt intake and/or avoid it altogether; and that she sticks to a healthy, balanced diet. This includes:

• Using little or no added salt in meals.

• Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables.

• Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day.

• Avoiding fried foods and junk food.

• Getting enough rest daily.

• Exercising regularly.

• Elevating the feet several times during the day.

• Avoiding drinking alcohol.

• Avoiding beverages containing caffeine.

If her blood pressure is constantly high, even with extensive efforts to control it, then sometimes a Caesarean section is recommended as it increases the chances of a safe delivery for both mother and baby. Otherwise, if her blood pressure is being properly managed the doctor might recommend that the woman has labour induced a few days before her due date, as this may reduce the risk of complications.

Note:

Note that in rare cases, postpartum pre-eclampsia can occur after a woman has given birth. A woman with postpartum pre-eclampsia will have high blood pressure and high levels of protein in her urine.

Most women who develop postpartum pre-eclampsia do so within 48 hours of childbirth. However, the condition can develop as long as six weeks after childbirth.

Postpartum pre-eclampsia is a very serious condition. It can lead to strokes, seizures and other complications if not promptly treated. The causes of postpartum pre-eclampsia are not known.

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