Pre-eclampsia in pregnancy

Posted on 20 June 2013

Pre-eclampsia complicates between two and eight percent of pregnancies. Dr Martin Puzey, a gynaecologist and obstetrician at Mediclinic Cape Town, tells us what you need to know about this condition…

What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is a condition that can affect women typically in the third term of pregnancy, after some 20 weeks. It is a hypertensive condition which means that you develop high blood pressure where you have not had high blood pressure before and it is accompanied by a significantly high level of proteins in your urine.

It needs immediate treatment as it can lead to serious or even fatal complications if left untreated. The good news is that in the developed world pre-eclampsia and even eclampsia (during which the mother develops convulsions) is treatable, especially with early detection and monitoring.

You need to know up front though, that treatment is the delivery of your baby.

Are there symptoms of pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia does not always make you fell unwell, which is why it is important to have regular check-ups. However, if your blood pressure was normal before you fell pregnant, symptoms may include:
•    High blood pressure
•    Excess protein in your urine
•    Severe headaches
•    Blurred vision or sensitivity to light
•    Discomfort under your ribs on the right hand side
•    Sudden weight gain
•    Dizziness, nausea or vomiting.
The tricky thing is that headaches, nausea and pain are common pregnancy complaints, so if you have any concerns, contact your doctor.

Are some people more at risk than others?
Yes, there are factors that could increase your risk. These include a family history of pre-eclampsia, a first pregnancy (or your first pregnancy with a new partner), if you are under 20 or over 40 years old, obesity, carrying multiple babies, a long break between pregnancies or history of conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes (or gestational diabetes) or migraines.

What can be done about pre-eclampsia?
This is not a condition that can be left untreated. It is simply too risky as it can lead to multi-organ dysfunction and slow down the growth of your baby and in severe cases it can be complicated by convulsions or eclampsia.

With pre-eclampsia you’ll be admitted to hospital and investigated, and short-term conservative management in hospital may be an option. Generally the treatment is delivery of your baby however. If your pregnancy is still less than 32 weeks, your doctor may treat your unborn baby with a type of steroid to help speed up the development of their lungs so they are able to breathe on their own after birth. Also, this does not necessarily mean you will deliver by Caesarean.

You may also be given medication to lower your blood pressure, and in severe cases, anticonvulsant medication.

Remember to keep an eye on yourself, even after you have delivered. If you get a severe headache, dizziness, see spots or have dramatic swelling your legs, contact your doctor immediately.

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The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Pregnancy

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