Most images we see about pregnancy are like this one to the left - a beautiful woman smiling and looking completely blissful. What we don't see in these images are the potential complications that can arise during pregnancy. One such complication is preeclampsia.
Preeclamspsia is the fancy medical term for high blood pressure during pregnancy. It can often be accompanied by:
Proteinuria (protein in the urine)
Shortness of breath
Sensitivity to light
You may notice that many of these symptoms are often pregnancy symptoms as well (i.e. nausea/vomiting). This is why it is incredibly important to monitor your blood pressure during your pregnancy. This can be done by your primary care giver, your obstetrician, your midwife, or even at home with a self monitoring device.
If left untreated preeclampsia can become quite severe, even becoming fatal to mom and/or baby. Organ damage to the kidneys and liver, decrease in platelets, and seizures are all possible in untreated preeclampsia.
Eclampsia: a complication of preeclampsia in which the pregnant woman experiences one or more seizures.
HELLP Syndrome: a more severe complication of preeclampsia. HELLP stands for: Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Lowered Platelets.
Fetal Growth Restriction: preeclampsia effects the blood flow to the growing fetus. This can effect the amount of nutrients they are receiving, resulting in slow growth, and/or low birth weight
Preterm birth: in order to save your life, or the life of your infant you may have to deliver your baby early.
While we don't really know what causes preeclampsia, there is a general consensus that it is related to the placenta and its role in blood perfusion to the fetus. The treatment for preeclampsia depends on when in your pregnancy it is diagnosed. If you are at or beyond 37 weeks of gestation your caregiver may recommend induction or scheduled c-section. If you are prior to 37 weeks gestation you may be given medication to control your blood pressure and monitored closely. Your caregiver may also recommend bed rest, or even hospitalization. The ultimate goal is to balance maternal health and lengthen your baby's gestation period as long as possible. To prevent eclampsia, you may be given magnesium sulfate in the period before and after baby is delivered.
Previous history of preeclampsia
Multiple gestation (twins, triplets etc.)
Advanced maternal age (over 35)
Sickle cell disease
While preeclampsia is a fairly common (2-8% of pregnancies) pregnancy complication, the good news is that it is rarely fatal in the developed world. This is due to early identification and treatment. Therefore you should make sure your blood pressure is monitored throughout pregnancy, and discuss preeclampsia with your primary care provider should you have any questions or concerns.
This post is intended for educational purposes only and should not be substituted for medical advice.