PREGNANCY AND PRE-ECLAMPSIA (Part One)
Pre-eclampsia is a condition that only occurs in pregnancy. It usually develops during the second or third trimester and can be dangerous for you and your baby.
The exact cause of pre-eclampsia is uncertain although it is thought to be a ‘disease of the placenta’. Therefore the only cure is delivery of the baby.
Pre-eclampsia causes high blood pressure and leakage of protein from your kidneys into your urine – therefore you will be told that you have proteinuria when the midwife tests your urine sample.
If left untreated, it can develop into Eclampsia, which is a fit or convulsion. This is a life threatening condition for both mother and baby. It is not to be confused with Gestational High Blood Pressure (GHBP) which is milder and does not cause proteinuria. Although if you do suffer from GHBP, you will be monitored carefully as this may develop into pre-eclampsia.
So how is pre-eclampsia diagnosed?
When you attend antenatal classes during your pregnancy, your midwife will monitor your blood pressure and check your urine for proteinuria. If your blood pressure is considered high and protein is found in your urine, your midwife will ask if you are suffering from any other symptoms.
These will include;
- severe headaches or visual disturbances
- abdominal pain especially just below your ribs.
- Swelling or puffiness in your face, hands and feet
- not feeling right
- not feeling your baby move as often.
Many pregnant women will suffer with one or more of these symptoms during their pregnancy although they may not suffer with pre-eclampsia. Therefore it is important to contact your midwife if you do notice any of these symptoms. She can then check your blood pressure and urine to determine if this could be due to the condition.
So who gets pre-eclampsia?
Although the exact cause to developing pre-eclampsia is unknown, it is believed that it may be genetic as it often runs in families. And although any pregnant woman may develop pre-eclampsia during their pregnancy it is thought that the risks are higher if:
- it is your first pregnancy, or if it is more than 10 years since your last baby
- you are obese. Especially if your BMI is above 40
- you are over the age of 40
- you suffered with raised blood pressure before you were pregnant
- your mother or sister has had pre-eclampsia
- you are carrying twins or triplets (or more!)
- you suffer from diabetes or chronic kidney disease
- you have had pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- you suffer from an autoimmune disease such as antiphospholid syndrome or systemic lupus erythematosus.
Most women that develop pre-eclampsia do not go on to develop serious complications as it is often detected early through ante natal appointments and therefore treated accordingly. But it is important to realise that the risks of complications increases with the severity of the disease.Although uncommon, the complications may include
- Eclamptic fit
- Severe bleeding from the placenta, abruption
- Liver, Kidney and Lung problems
- A blood clotting disorder – DIC
- A stroke
- HELLP syndrome – stands for (Haemolysis Elevated Liver enzymes Low Platelets)
Because the efficiency of the placenta is compromised in pre-eclampsia, your baby will receive a smaller amount of oxygen and nutrients therefore they are often smaller and are at increased risk of stillbirth or premature delivery which brings its own complications.
They are also more at risk of developing breathing problems after delivery. Also smoking during pregnancy reduces the efficiency of the placenta therefore if you are suffering with pre-eclampsia, it is extremely important that you stop smoking.To be continued next week:
For further reading on pre-eclampsia click link to the NHS choices page
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