Know the symptoms of the most common serious pregnancy disorder

Preeclampsia is the most common serious medical disorder during pregnancy, affecting as many as 10% of pregnancies. Whilst is usually arises during the second half of pregnancy, it can occur earlier. Today, May 22 is World Preeclampsia Day, a day to raise awareness and educate ourselves about the risks and prevention measures for this severe and dangerous pregnancy complication.

It is sometimes referred to as preeclamptic toxaemia (abbreviated to PET) and can affect both the mother and the unborn baby. In the mother, it can cause several problems of which she may be unaware – such as high blood pressure (hypertension), leakage of protein into the urine (proteinuria), thinning of the blood (coagulopathy) and liver dysfunction. Occasionally, preeclampsia can lead to convulsions (fits), a serious complication known as eclampsia. Worldwide, over 50,000 mothers die each year just from eclampsia, let alone the other complications of preeclampsia.

Every year in Australia some 200 babies die because of preeclampsia (with 500,00 babies dying worldwide each year), many of these as a consequence of premature delivery rather than the disease itself, as the only cure for Preeclampsia is delivery, irrespective of the stage of the pregnancy. When a pregnancy is complicated by preeclampsia it may impact the growth of the baby and may cause potentially harmful oxygen deficiency.

Causes and risk factors for preeclampsia

  • First pregnancy
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • Assisted reproduction (in vitro fertilisation, egg donation)
  • Family or own history of pre-eclampsia (or intrauterine growth restriction, placental abruption)
  • Obesity (Body Mass Index ≥30)
  • Chronic diseases (for example elevated blood pressure, kidney diseases or diabetes)
  • Autoimmune diseases (for example antiphospholipid syndrome, systemic lupus erythematodes)
  • Age <18 years or > 40years
  • Ethnicity

Know the Preeclampsia symptoms
Most pregnant women with the condition feel fine at the beginning and have no idea they have preeclampsia. This is one of the reasons why every woman should attend a prenatal check with a healthcare professional in the first trimester to identify her risk for pre-eclampsia as early as possible and to enable early treatment and monitoring.

  • High blood pressure - High blood pressure during pregnancy is one of the biggest red flags that preeclampsia may be developing.
  • Headaches - Dull or severe, throbbing headaches, often described as migraine-like that just won’t go away are cause for concern.
  • Swelling (Oedema) - Whilst a certain amount of swelling is normal during pregnancy, oedema is the accumulation of excess fluid and can be a concern when it occurs in your face, around your eyes, or in your hands.
  • Changes in Vision - Vision changes are one of the most serious symptoms of preeclampsia. They may be associated with central nervous system irritation or be an indication of swelling of the brain (cerebral oedema). Common vision changes include sensations of flashing lights, auras, light sensitivity, or blurry vision or spots.
  • Weight gain - Rapid weight gain, in particular in the third trimester (more than 2 pounds/1 kg per week)

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Treatment of preeclampsia
Once a woman with preeclampsia has developed persistent hypertension and significant proteinuria, the disease is considered to be severe and hospitalisation is required for careful monitoring of maternal and fetal welfare, stabilisation of various complications of preeclampsia and preparation for delivery. Even though some features of pre-clampsia. can be temporarily improved by treatments, the disease itself is progressive (sometimes slowly, but sometimes rapidly) until delivery. Blood pressure lowering drugs may often be necessary to reduce the risks of complications such as heart failure and stroke. Anticonvulsant drugs such as magnesium may also be required to prevent or treat eclamptic fits. Because of the progressive nature of preeclampsia, once admitted, women are not usually discharged until after delivery.

Early screening is needed
The best way to minimise the harm that preeclampsia may cause in pregnancy is to regularly attend for antenatal check-ups so that the chance of detecting preeclampsia in its earliest stages is optimised. If a woman is at particular risk of preeclampsia, then it would be wise for her to attend a specialist obstetrician or maternity hospital with skill and experience in the management of preeclampsia and its complications. Such women especially should consult with their doctors early in pregnancy, or even before pregnancy, to plan their antenatal care. All women should ensure that their blood pressure is checked regularly during pregnancy and that their urine is examined for the presence of protein. 

 

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Image: Ashley's baby, Raegan

It is more common than many mums realise. At 25 weeks pregnant, Miracle Mum, Ashley woke up with dizziness and blurred vision. She decided to jump in a cold shower to fix it. The next thing she remembers is waking up in the emergency room bruised and battered and with doctors trying to delay her labour. Her blood pressure was sky high and she had suffered a seizure in the shower. 

My memory of what happened during the next few hours -days really- is relatively foggy due to the numerous medications they were pumping into my body trying to delay labor and lower my BP. Although it took a while to fully understand, I was told my blood pressure was dangerously high and I had a seizure while in the shower. Preeclampsia is what I quickly learned I was diagnosed with.
My husband saved my life that day. I thank God I don’t remember any of it, but pray one day he may be able to come to peace with what he witnessed and the actions he had to take to ensure I was still breathing.
After a long few hours passed, and no medications were successful in getting my BP to a safe level, my doctor decided the only way to save not only my life, but that of our unborn baby’s life was to perform an emergency C-section. The doctors told us, with a fair amount of confidence, that she was not going to survive.

Sadly, Ashley isn’t the only family to be touch by preeclampsia. Here are just a few Miracle Mums who had preelampsia either sneak up on them without realising it, or who knew their risks early on, but were still impacted by the disease:

https://www.miraclebabies.org.au/families/family-stories/25-weeks/raegan/

https://www.miraclebabies.org.au/families/family-stories/28-weeks/valentina/

https://www.miraclebabies.org.au/families/family-stories/30-weeks/byron/

https://www.miraclebabies.org.au/families/family-stories/32-weeks/ruben/

https://www.miraclebabies.org.au/families/family-stories/32-weeks/pyper/

https://www.miraclebabies.org.au/families/family-stories/30-weeks/sophie/

https://www.miraclebabies.org.au/families/family-stories/28-weeks/jensen/

https://www.miraclebabies.org.au/families/family-stories/30-weeks/oliver/

 

You can find out more about EFCNI's 'Act Early! Screen Early! campaign HERE.

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Page Sources:
EFCNI - European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants
AAPEC - Australia Action on Pre-eclampsia Inc
Ending Eclampsia 

 

 

 

 

Author

Miracle Babies Foundation

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