One of the most common complications of pregnancy is known as preeclampsia, or toxemia. Aside from being a killer word during a spelling bee, preeclampsia is also a condition marked by high blood pressure and large amounts of protein in the urine of pregnant women. The condition is considered early-onset when diagnosed earlier than 32 weeks gestation. However, it can typically develop in pregnant women anywhere from 20 weeks after conception through 6 weeks post-partum.
Preeclampsia can be harmful to both the mother and the developing baby if left untreated, as this condition can prevent the placenta from receiving enough blood. Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, the final and most severe stage of the condition, which can cause coma or death of the mother and baby. Untreated preeclampsia can also lead to premature births, low birth weight, learning disabilities, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or hearing and vision problems.
Signs of preeclampsia
Symptoms of preeclampsia vary. If your doctor suspects that you have preeclampsia, she will perform a physical exam and order tests, looking for certain indicators of the condition:
- High blood pressure
- Protein in the urine
- Rapid weight gain
- Swelling in the hands and face
If you have preeclampsia, you may also experience
- Abdominal pain
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and dizziness
- Pain in the area below your ribs
Though your doctor is likely monitoring your blood pressure along with other vital stats during each visit, tell her if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. Preeclampsia can develop quickly, so it’s important to know the symptoms of this condition.
Though the exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, there are several groups of women who are at higher risk for the condition. Factors that may increase the likelihood of preeclampsia include:
- Age greater than 35
- Family history or past history of diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease
- First pregnancy
- Multiple pregnancy (having twins or more)
The only sure way to cure preeclampsia is the delivery of the baby. If this condition arises at 37 weeks or later, the doctor may want to induce delivery provided the baby is developed enough. If earlier than 37 weeks, the condition can usually be managed until the baby is ready to be delivered. Blood-pressure medication may be prescribed to help symptoms. Mild preeclampsia, which is diagnosed if there is a small amount of protein in the urine, can be treated with rest and careful observation at-home or in the hospital.