Although pre-eclampsia can be serious, most mild cases can be managed with regular check-ups. If you are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, your doctor will be there to take extra care of you and your baby.
What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia only occurs during pregnancy or immediately after giving birth. Luckily, most cases are mild, affecting about 1 in 14 women, but occasionally it can become more serious. The condition, which is quite complex and still not fully understood, may be caused by a defect in the placenta, which reduces the flow of blood and nutrients to your baby, affecting their growth.
Symptoms of pre-eclampsia
Unfortunately, there are no outward symptoms of pre-eclampsia in the early stages of the condition but regular antenatal check-ups can detect it before it becomes serious. Your doctor will be looking out for things like high blood pressure, protein in your urine, and circulation problems such as fluid retention, which are all linked to pre-eclampsia. One of these symptoms in isolation may not be linked to pre-eclampsia. High blood pressure and a certain degree of swelling are quite common during pregnancy and don't necessarily indicate a serious problem. Protein in your urine could also indicate an infection, so pre-eclampsia can be hard to spot. However, the following symptoms can occur during the later stages of the condition, so if you experience any of the following, seek medical help immediately.
- Severe headaches, accompanied by blurry vision or seeing spots or flashing lights before your eyes.
- Pain in your upper abdomen.
- Nausea and vomiting although this could be morning sickness.
- Sudden swelling in your face, hands, ankles or feet.
- Sudden excessive weight gain
Who is most at risk?
Although the causes of pre-eclampsia are not fully understood, there are known factors that can put some women more at risk than others:
- Age – if you are under 20 or over 35.
- Weight – if you are obese, with a body mass index of 35+.
- Existing medical conditions – such as diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus, kidney disease, and migraines.
- If it's your first pregnancy.
- If you are expecting a multiple birth (twins).
- Gap between pregnancies – usually if it has been 10+ years since the last child.
- History of pre-eclampsia – if you or your mother or sister have had it before.
Since one of the risk factors is obesity, some experts say that following a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of developing pre-eclampsia. Ideally, you will have got into a healthy eating routine before pregnancy but it's never too late to start eating healthily. However, this doesn't mean going on a diet – a big no-no during pregnancy. Ask your doctor or nurse for advice on what to eat, What you must do is to keep up with your antenatal appointments, when your blood pressure and urine will be checked for symptoms of pre-eclampsia.
Mild pre-eclampsia does not always need treatment, and regular check ups on you and your baby's health may be all that's needed. Some cases can be managed with drugs or supplements if you have a lower blood pressure, but this won't prevent pre-eclampsia, it's just a way of controlling the condition.
Higher risk pre-eclampsia
Higher risk pre-eclampsia If you are diagnosed as having more severe pre-eclampsia, you'll probably be advised to get lots of bed rest and you may need to spend some time in the hospital. You'll probably have daily checks on your blood pressure and regular scans to keep an eye on your baby's development. If you or your baby are in a serious condition, then you may have to be induced or have your baby delivered by caesarean section.