Preeclampsia can develop quickly. That’s what happened to me. Looking back I had many of the signs and symptoms leading to a placental abruption and HELLP syndrome. I wish I had known what to look for because I would have gone straight to my OB. Instead I took an ambulance to the ER, which led to an emergency delivery.
Everything turned out okay, relatively speaking. My son was delivered at 34-weeks and was a feeder/grower during his time in the NICU. Even though I was quite sick for some time, I literally survived a very serious illness. This isn’t so for many women. Preeclampsia is the leading cause of maternal and infant mortality. It affects 5-8 percent of all pregnancies and isn’t talked about all that much. If you, like me, are a survivor please take the time to promote preeclampsia awareness this month.
What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia describes a progression of high blood pressure and protein in the urine while pregnant. It is a quickly progressing disorder and is very dangerous to both mother and baby. The only cure is delivery of the baby. It typically occurs after 20 weeks gestation, but can appear even up to six weeks postpartum. Other related complications of preeclampsia are eclampsia (seizures) and HELLP syndrome, which may develop if left unchecked.
Hypertension disorders are the highest risk factor to maternal and infant illness and death. They cause 76,000 maternal deaths and 300,000 infant deaths annually worldwide. That’s why it’s important to get proper prenatal care and know what to look for.
Signs/Symptoms of Preeclampsia
- Swelling in face and hands. It is common for your feet to swell in pregnancy therefore this is not a sure sign of preeclampsia. However, if your face and hands are also swollen, or if your leg swelling doesn’t improve after they are elevated awhile then it is a good idea to get checked out.
- Weight gain. Quick and excessive weight gain may be a sign of preeclampsia. You are supposed to gain weight with your growing baby however, if it happens too quickly it may be a sign something is wrong.
- Headache. If you have a pressure headache during pregnancy that won’t go away, go to your OB and have your blood pressure checked. This can be a sign of hypertension.
- Vision problems. If you experience a change in vision such as blurred vision, especially if in conjunction with a headache, check your blood pressure. This could be an indicator of an onset of preeclampsia.
- Difficulty urinating. If you are developing preeclampsia your body will begin to retain urine making it difficult for you to produce waste product. Pay attention to how well you are voiding during pregnancy.
- Nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are oh so common in pregnancy, but if you generally do not feel well and have any of the above symptoms as well, please make sure you see your OB.
- Some women with rapidly developing preeclampsia report few symptoms. Therefore, it may be worth it to invest in a home blood pressure monitor to keep track of it throughout your pregnancy.
Remember Lady Sibyl of the popular PBS series Downton Abby? Remember the episode when she died of eclampsia in child-birth? Obstretic care was very different in the 1920s. However, it was sobering it was for me to watch it after my son was born, knowing I could have had a very different outcome in another place and time. That’s why it is so important to know what to look for in pregnancy.
Preeclampsia can happen to any woman, during any one of her pregnancies. Though it does most commonly occur in the first pregnancy and not likely recur in subsequent pregnancies, especially pregnancies where the father is the same.
What you can do next
This month is Preeclampsia Awareness Month. If you are a survivor of preeclampsia, consider joining a registry to help provide information and research. You can also go to the Preeclampsia Foundation, share your story, and participate in the Promise Walk.