Although health care providers have long cautioned pregnant women to reduce stress and remain as calm as possible during their pregnancies for the health of the baby, this can often be a difficult order to follow. Let’s face it—expectant women have a lot to worry about. In addition to commonplace concerns such as finances, parenting, and the impending life transformation that new arrival will bring, there are a host of ailments that specifically target women during their pregnancies. One such condition is called preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia is a condition that affects between five and eight percent of women, usually during the second and third trimester of their pregnancies but sometimes even postpartum up to 6 weeks after delivery, and is diagnosable by the presence of protein in the woman’s urine combined with high blood pressure. Although doctors are still unsure exactly what causes preeclampsia, they have identified some risk factors which seem to contribute to its prevalence. Most doctors agree that preeclampsia is likely caused by either autoimmune disorders, problems with the pregnant woman’s blood vessels, her nutritional habits, or her genetic makeup. Women who are having their first baby, those who are expecting multiples, obese women, women older than 35, or those with a history of high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes are considered to be at a higher risk for preeclampsia than other expectant women.
Since preeclampsia is often a silent illness and is typically detected through urine tests administered by your physician, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the risk of preeclampsia and attend your regular check-ups. Although some women do not have any perceivable symptoms of preeclampsia at all, others experience swelling, persistent headaches, drastic weight gain, mood changes, changes in urinating patterns, blurred vision, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Although preeclampsia can be a dangerous condition for pregnant women and their babies – resulting in placental abruption, stroke, and in rare cases death – in most cases it can be managed. In some cases, the baby will be delivered early if preeclampsia is diagnosed, usually after the 37th week. In cases where the baby has not developed enough to be delivered, the condition will be treated either at home or in the hospital, depending upon its severity. Some women can self-treat the condition at home by getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and decreasing salt intake, while others need to be admitted to the hospital for more intense care. Hospital treatments of preeclampsia can include steroid injections and intravenous anti-seizure drugs.
Premature birth is the biggest risk for infants as a result of preeclampsia. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation (2011), the condition is to blame for up to twenty percent of premature births worldwide. Prematurity can cause a host of long-term developmental problems for babies and can sometimes even result in death.
Although there is no guaranteed prevention or cure for preeclampsia, if detected early enough the condition is definitely manageable. If you have a history of preeclampsia or believe that you are at risk, talk to your health care provider immediately. The more you know about the condition and the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the chances are that you will bring your baby home in good health.