The fact is that preeclampsia affects 7% of women during pregnancy and the concern is that if this condition is not promptly and properly treated it can have devastating consequences for both the mother and the foetus.
Apart from the term preeclampsia, the condition is also known as toxaemia or pregnancy-induced hypertension. The fact is that all of these terms are used to describe one disorder and that is elevated blood pressure which is caused by the pregnancy (or suffering high blood pressure as a condition).
Who is at risk of developing preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia only develops in pregnancy and those who are considered to be at high risk are those who:
- Have a family history of preeclampsia. A family history of preeclampsia increases a woman’s risk of developing this condition;
- Are pregnant for the first time. The chances of developing preeclampsia is a lot higher in first time pregnancies than subsequent pregnancies;
- Are pregnant by a new partner. A pregnancy with a new partner raises the risk of preeclampsia over a second or third pregnancy with the same partner;
- If the woman falls into a high-risk age category. Preeclampsia is more common in pregnant women who are younger than 20 and older than 40;
- Obesity. Preeclampsia has a higher chance of developing when women are obese.
- Pregnant with multiples, the condition is common for women pregnant with twins, triplets or higher multiples;
- Are diabetic or who develop gestational diabetes. In cases where a woman develops gestational diabetes, the risk of developing preeclampsia as the pregnancy progresses is high;
- Has a history of certain health conditions. If a woman suffers from existing conditions like chronic high blood pressure, migraine headaches, diabetes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus their risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy is raised.
There are also other factors which may be possible links to preeclampsia and these are:
- Urinary tract infections and gum disease during pregnancy have both been linked to the increased risk of a woman developing preeclampsia,
- A vitamin D deficiency. Some evidence suggests than insufficient vitamin D intake adds to the chances of developing preeclampsia, and a supplement should be taken in early pregnancy which could prevent this condition developing. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this notion.
At routine prenatal check-ups, the doctor or the obstetrician will check for any signs of the condition, and this may include:
- Swelling of the hands and face.
- The woman’s weight gain is excessive and rapid.
- High blood pressure.
- Protein present in urine.
When the condition is severe and in the late stages, the symptoms may be hazy of distorted vision, headaches, irritability and confusion.
The treatment varies and is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of the pregnancy. If the case of preeclampsia is deemed to be mild, the doctor will recommend or prescribe bed rest either at home or in the hospital. The soon-to-be mom will also be educated on the signs of severe or late-stage preeclampsia. The baby will be regularly monitored for any signs of foetal distress. Thankfully for both the mom and baby, the outcome of mild preeclampsia is very good but it is important that this serious condition be given the correct medical care and attention to ensure that the outcome is a favourable one for both mother and child.
When preeclampsia is severe, the treatment may be more aggressive. When a mom’s blood pressure cannot be safely controlled or if there are any indications of either maternal or foetal deterioration or stress, the option of bed rest and medication will be instantly discarded and the doctor will do an immediate delivery of the baby. The notion is that a premature baby cared for in a neonatal ICU unit is a much better option than allowing the baby to suffer and be affected by preeclampsia. Depending on the stage of the pregnancy, a vaginal delivery or a c-section delivery is done.
In severe cases of preeclampsia where it is left untreated, the condition may develop in a very severe condition that is known as eclampsia. Eclampsia can result in the mother convulsing, slipping into a coma and even death. Thankfully with the help of professional medical care and continual monitoring during pregnancy, cases of preeclampsia are diagnosed early in the pregnancy and most can be treated and controlled thus avoiding any upsetting problems for both mom and baby.
Additionally if preeclampsia is not treated, it may lead to permanent damage of the mother’s nervous system and blood vessels and because blood supply to the baby is inadequate, retardation of the foetus may result.
Due to the fact that early detection can prevent such devastating outcomes, pregnant women are urged to notify their doctor, if any of the symptoms of preeclampsia are experienced and to ensure that all routine check-ups and doctor’s appointments are kept.
Lowering the risk
It has been shown that a good diet can lower a woman’s risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy. A recent survey was conducted where women with preeclampsia and without were asked about their eating habits both before and during the pregnancy. It was found that those with the condition were eating less than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day for up to a year before delivery. It was also found that women with preeclampsia have very low levels of vitamin C in their blood. Researchers are now suggesting that eating foods rich in vitamin C or taking supplements is a good method of lowering or reducing the risk of preeclampsia.
Since gum disease has been linked to preeclampsia, one means of protection is to visit the dentist. Due to hormones, many pregnant women discover that they experience sore and swollen gums, a condition that’s known as gingivitis. Gum disease may greatly increase the chances of developing preeclampsia. Apart from visiting the dentist, women are reminded to floss daily and brush well during their pregnancy. Should gums swell or start to bleed, see the dentist immediately!