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What is Pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a problem that occurs in some women during pregnancy and happens mainly during the second half of pregnancy. The following are the main signs that Pre-eclampsia may be developing: high blood pressure, swelling and large amounts of protein in your urine.

Who is likely to develop Pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is most common in a first pregnancy and in women who have a family history of pre-eclampsia. The risk is higher in women carrying more than one baby, in teenage mothers and in women aged over 40 years. The cause or causes aren't known but there may be a link with the baby's father, so if it is not your first pregnancy,but it is your first with a new partner, then pre-eclampsia is more common.

High Blood Pressure and Pre-eclampsia

If your doctor or midwife discovers that your blood pressure is high, you will be monitored carefully for any changes that may indicate that you have pre-eclampsia. If there is excessive swelling, or protein in the urine, these also are indications. Sometimes women have high blood pressure but no protein in the urine or swelling and they do not develop pre-eclampsia.

Swelling and Pre-eclampsia

If there is some swelling then this does not always indicate Pre-eclampsia, as it is usual to have swelling during pregnancy ie sometimes rings can become tight and shoes not fit as well as they did prior to pregnancy. If the swelling is very obvious in the face and hands or if it does not go away after resting, or if there is a rapid weight gain of several pounds a week, then this may be an indication to be checked by your doctor or midwife for the development of Pre-eclampsia.

Are there tests for Pre-Eclampsia?

Your blood pressure will be tested at every visit to your doctor or midwife. If there is a big rise in your blood pressure this can be a sign that you may be developing pre-eclampsia. A urine test can tell if there is protein in your urine. You may then probably need to have blood tests to check whether you have pre-eclampsia. If you have signs of pre-eclampsia your doctor or midwife may want to see very regularly for monitoring and check ups.

Risks Associated with Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia may prevent the placenta from getting enough blood and thus deprive the baby from getting adequate nourishment and oxygen. This can cause the baby to be a low weight at birth and other associated problems, however most women with pre-eclampsia will still go on to deliver healthy babies provided they have received good prenatal care. A few women may develop a condition called eclampsia which can cause seizures, a condition which is very serious for both mother and baby. Fortunately, if pre-eclampsia is detected early on then any problems can usually be prevented.

Symptoms of Pre-eclampsia

If you develop any of the following symptoms during pregnancy then you should contact your doctor or midwife straight away to arrange checks for Pre-eclampsia:

  • Severe headaches
  • Excessive swelling of the feet, hands or face
  • Reduction in amount of urine passed or no urine
  • Dizziness
  • Severe nausea
  • Ringing or buzzing sound in ears
  • Repeated or severe vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Double Vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Sudden blindness
  • Tummy pain

    Treatment for Pre-eclampsia

    If you have developed Pre-eclampsia then the best way to treat both you and the baby is normally delivery of the baby, however this is not always possible if the pregnancy is not at an advanced stage as it may be too early for the baby to survive outside the womb however if the pre-eclampsia is severe the baby will need to be delivered to save the mother as it cannot always be controlled and delivery is the only cure. There is still a need to monitor the mother after delivery for a few days as eclampsia can happen after birth.

    If it is too early in the pregnancy the pre-eclampsia can usually be managed until the baby can be safely delivered. Treatment to lower the blood pressure may be taken such as bed rest and/or medicine. Sometimes it may be necessary to have a stay in hospital so that you can be monitored easily by the doctors and midwives and take plenty of rest. Another way to control high blood pressure is with diet and your doctor or midwife may give you advice regarding your daily diet and liquid intake.

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