When you’re pregnant, knowing all the risks and medical possibilities can be daunting. And while it’s always good to maintain a positive mindset (and stay off of Google!), there are some medical conditions you really need to pay attention to. Specifically, you need to know about conditions that can occur during pregnancy which could be life-threatening for both you and your baby. One of these is called preeclampsia. Here’s what pregnant women need to know in order to make the best decisions for themselves and their baby.
What is Preeclampsia?
According to the Mayo Clinic, preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system. The other organ system affected is most often the liver and kidneys.
Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal. Preeclampsia is a serious complication that should not be taken lightly as it can have harmful, or even fatal, outcomes for both the mom and the baby.
Possible Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia
- Excess protein in your urine (proteinuria) or additional signs of kidney problems
- Severe headaches
- Changes in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision or light sensitivity
- Upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right side
- Nausea or vomiting
- Decreased urine output
- Decreased levels of platelets in your blood (thrombocytopenia)
- Impaired liver function
- Shortness of breath, caused by fluid in your lungs
- Sudden weight gain or swelling (edema)
What causes preeclampsia?
There are many different factors that play into the presence of preeclampsia. In women with preeclampsia, the blood vessels in the placenta don’t seem to develop or function properly. They’re narrower than normal blood vessels and react differently to hormones, which limits the amount of blood that can flow through them.
Some causes that could contribute to the blood vessels not developing correctly include:
- Insufficient blood flow to the uterus
- Damage to the blood vessels
- A problem with the immune system
- Certain genes
Some other risk factors that could make you more likely to have preeclampsia include:
- History of preeclampsia
- Chronic hypertension
- First pregnancy
- Age. The risk of preeclampsia is higher for very young pregnant women as well as pregnant women older than 40.
- Multiple pregnancy. Preeclampsia is more common in women who are carrying twins, triplets or other multiples.
- Interval between pregnancies. Having babies less than two years or more than 10 years apart leads to a higher risk of preeclampsia.
- History of certain conditions such as chronic high blood pressure, migraines, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, a tendency to develop blood clots, or lupus
- In vitro fertilization
How can I avoid this condition?
While many studies have been performed, experts still don’t have a clear answer for what you can do to avoid preeclampsia. The best thing you can do is to be as healthy as possible before getting pregnant and during pregnancy. In some cases, your doctor may advise you to take a low dose of Aspirin (81 mg) daily after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
However, never take any Aspirin or other supplements during pregnancy without first discussing it with your OBGYN.
While most pregnant women never suffer from preeclampsia, the fact that it exists is a good reason why you should always keep up with your prenatal doctor visits.
Preeclampsia sometimes develops without any symptoms, which is why it’s so important not to miss visits with your OBGYN. High blood pressure may develop slowly, or it may happen suddenly. That’s why prenatal care is so important – your OBGYN or nurse will monitor your blood pressure every time you come in for a visit. This is the best way to ensure signs of preeclampsia are found sooner rather than later.
Regardless, if you’re concerned about any symptoms, you should absolutely call your doctor.
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