May is Preecclampsia Awareness Month.

This will be the first of four posts related to Preecclampsia. Preecclampsia is a very serious, often very frightening condition during pregnancy and it is important to know some of the facts about it for when/if you or a loved one becomes pregnant. Preeclampsia is sometimes referred to as toxemia or pregnancy-induced hypertension so it is wise to make yourself familiar with all three terms. Read on to learn more about the condition, common risk factors, warning signs and treatment options. 

Facts

Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs during pregnancy and affects both the mother and her unborn baby. It is a condition that can progress rapidly and is characterized by elevated blood pressure, swelling in various parts of the body and protein in the urine. The cause of Preeclampsia is still not fully understood, though the disease was recognized and described nearly 2000 years ago.

If undetected, Preeclampsia can lead to Eclampsia which is one of the top five causes of maternal deaths, affecting an estimated 13% of maternal deaths worldwide.

Approximately 5-8 % of pregnancies are affected by Preeclampsia which means that more than 6.6 million women worldwide suffer from the disease.

In the United States Preeclampsia is responsible for approximately 18% of all maternal deaths.

Preeclampsia causes 15% of premature births in industrialized countries and it the number one reason doctors decide to deliver a baby prematurely. 

Risk Factors

  • Women who have had more than one pregnancy.
  • Women who are obese.
  • A medical history of chronic high blood pressure, diabetes and/or kidney issues.
  • Previously diagnosed hypertension, kidney disease, connective tissue disease (i.e. lupus, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Pregnancy in early teems or past the age of 40

Warning Signs

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, warning signs of Preeclampsia aren't noticeable. Women might experience frequent headaches, blurred vision, upper abdominal pain and/or unexplained anxiety... but many pregnant women complain of these things and aren't preeclamptic so it can be hard to detect.

Dramatic weight gain, an inability to urinate freely (or a great decrease in amount released), and persistent nausea, often paired with abdominal pain may be reasons to watch a woman more closely for the development of Preeclampsia which typically (but not always) occurs in the late 2nd or 3rd trimesters of pregnancy.

Treatment

The only true way to "treat" severe Preeclampsia is for the woman to give birth. Doctors take the baby's gestational age, the stage of the baby's development and the mother's overall health condition before proceeding with plans for early delivery, of course. 

If detected early enough and the mother has a good home support system, sometimes she can manage mild Preeclampsia with bed rest, frequent OB visits, and she might need to monitor her blood pressure at home on a regular basis.

If you're pregnant (or someone you know is pregnant) and end experiencing any of these problems  or if you've read through this and question if you have Preeclampsia, call your healthcare provider right away. And if the person on the phone doesn't take you seriously, ask to speak to someone else in the office and carry that on until someone hears you out and gets you an appointment as soon as possible. Maybe its nothing, but maybe its something and its always better to play it safe when your life and the life of your unborn child is concerned.

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