What Happens if You have Pre-eclampsia?

Understanding Pre-eclampsia: Risk Factors and Management

Pre-eclampsia, checking blood pressure

What is pre-eclampsia? Pre-eclampsia is a common yet potentially serious condition that affects pregnant women, characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to organs, most commonly the liver and kidneys. This condition typically arises after 20 weeks of pregnancy and can lead to complications for both the mother and the baby if left untreated. Preeclampsia complicates between 2% and 8% of pregnancies worldwide and accounts for approximately one-third of severe obstetric complications. Understanding the risk factors and management strategies for pre-eclampsia is crucial in ensuring the health and well-being of expectant mothers and their infants.

How do Doctors Know if You have Pre-eclampsia?

Early signs of pre-eclampsia include having high blood pressure (hypertension) and protein in your urine (proteinuria). It’s unlikely that you’ll notice these signs, but they should be picked up during your routine antenatal appointments. In some cases, further symptoms can develop, including: severe headache. Screening for preeclampsia with routine blood pressure and urine examinations is an established part of routine antenatal care.

Risk Factors for Pre-eclampsia

Several factors can increase the risk of developing pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. While some risk factors are beyond an individual’s control, others may be modifiable with appropriate interventions. Common risk factors include:

1.         First Pregnancy: Women who are pregnant for the first time are at a higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia compared to those who have had previous pregnancies.

2.         Teenagers and Women Over 35: Pregnant teenagers and women over the age of 35 are more susceptible to pre-eclampsia.

3.         History of Pre-eclampsia: Women who have previously experienced pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy have an increased risk of developing it again in subsequent pregnancies.

4.         Multiple Gestations: Women carrying twins, triplets, or other multiple pregnancies are at higher risk due to increased demands on the placenta and circulatory system.

5.         Chronic Hypertension: Women with pre-existing high blood pressure or chronic hypertension are more prone to developing pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.

6.         Obesity: Being overweight or obese before pregnancy increases the risk of pre-eclampsia and other pregnancy complications.

7.         Diabetes: Women with pre-existing diabetes, including gestational diabetes, are at a higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia.

8.         Family History: A family history of pre-eclampsia, especially among first-degree relatives, may predispose women to the condition.

9.         Certain Medical Conditions: Conditions such as kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, and thrombophilia increase the risk of pre-eclampsia.

Management of Pre-eclampsia

Early detection and appropriate management are essential in reducing the risks associated with pre-eclampsia. Management strategies aim to control blood pressure, prevent complications, and ensure the well-being of both the mother and the baby. Key aspects of pre-eclampsia management include:

  1. Regular Antenatal Care: Regular antenatal visits allow healthcare providers to monitor blood pressure, urine protein levels, and other indicators of pre-eclampsia.
  2. Blood Pressure Monitoring: Close monitoring of blood pressure helps identify changes that may indicate pre-eclampsia and allows for timely intervention.
  3. Laboratory Tests: Blood tests to assess liver and kidney function, as well as blood clotting parameters, help identify signs of organ damage associated with pre-eclampsia.
  4. Foetal Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of foetal well-being through non-stress tests, biophysical profiles, and ultrasound examinations helps ensure the baby’s health and growth.
  5. Medication: Blood pressure-lowering medications, such as antihypertensives, may be prescribed to control hypertension and reduce the risk of complications. Magnesium Sulphate is often administered to prevent seizures (eclampsia) in women with severe pre-eclampsia.
  1. Bed Rest: In cases of severe pre-eclampsia or complications, healthcare providers may recommend bed rest or hospitalization to closely monitor the mother and the baby.
  2. Delivery: Delivery is the definitive treatment for pre-eclampsia, as it eliminates the source of the condition—the placenta. The timing and mode of delivery depend on various factors, including the severity of pre-eclampsia, gestational age, and foetal well-being.
  3. Postpartum Monitoring: Women with a history of pre-eclampsia require close monitoring in the postpartum period to ensure that blood pressure returns to normal and that there are no lingering complications.

Conclusion

Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition that requires prompt identification and management to safeguard the health of both mother and baby. Identifying risk factors, regular antenatal care, and early intervention are crucial in managing pre-eclampsia and reducing associated complications. By working closely with healthcare providers and adopting appropriate management strategies, expectant mothers can navigate pre-eclampsia with greater confidence and ensure the best possible outcomes for themselves and their infants.

References:

  1. Roberts JM, Bell MJ. If we know so much about preeclampsia, why haven’t we cured the disease? J Reprod Immunol. 2013 Mar;99(1-2):1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jri.2012.10.008. Epub 2012 Nov 30. PMID: 23218422; PMCID: PMC3572751.
  2. Steegers EA, von Dadelszen P, Duvekot JJ, Pijnenborg R. Pre-eclampsia. Lancet. 2010 Aug 21;376(9741):631-44. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60279-6. PMID: 20598363.
  3. Phipps EA, Thadhani R, Benzing T, Karumanchi SA. Pre-eclampsia: pathogenesis, novel diagnostics and therapies. Nat Rev Nephrol. 2019 Feb;15(2):275-289. doi: 10.1038/s41581-018-0119-y. Epub 2018 Dec 10. PMID: 30531941; PMCID: PMC6449053.
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Task Force on Hypertension in Pregnancy. Hypertension in pregnancy. Report of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Task Force on Hypertension in Pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2013 Nov;122(5):1122-31. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000437382.03963.88. PMID: 24150027.
  5. Redman CW, Sargent IL. Placental stress and pre-eclampsia: a revised view. Placenta. 2009 Jul;30 Suppl A:S38-42. doi: 10.1016/j.placenta.2008.11.007. Epub 2009 Jan 21. PMID: 19157710.
  6. Sibai B, Dekker G, Kupferminc M. Pre-eclampsia. Lancet. 2005 Mar 26-Apr 1;365(9461):785-99. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(05)17987-2. PMID: 15794971.
  7. Zhang J, Meikle S, Trumble A. Severe maternal morbidity associated with hypertensive disorders in pregnancy in the United States. Hypertens Pregnancy. 2003;22(2):203-12. doi: 10.1081/PRG-120021060. PMID: 14533149.
  8. Chang KJ, Seow KM, Chen KH. Preeclampsia: Recent Advances in Predicting, Preventing, and Managing the Maternal and Fetal Life-Threatening Condition. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Feb 8;20(4):2994. 

FAQ

1: What is pre-eclampsia?

Answer: Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. It usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal.

2: What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia?

Answer: Common symptoms include high blood pressure, protein in the urine, severe headaches, changes in vision (blurriness, light sensitivity, or temporary loss of vision), upper abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, decreased urine output, and shortness of breath caused by fluid in the lungs.

3: Who is at risk for pre-eclampsia?

Answer: Risk factors include first pregnancies, multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, etc.), a history of pre-eclampsia, chronic hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, advanced maternal age (over 35), and certain autoimmune conditions.

4: How is pre-eclampsia diagnosed?

Answer: Diagnosis is typically made through regular prenatal visits where blood pressure is monitored, and urine tests are conducted to check for protein. Additional tests may include blood tests, ultrasounds, and non-stress tests to monitor the baby’s health.

5: Can pre-eclampsia be prevented?

Answer: While there is no sure way to prevent pre-eclampsia, maintaining a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy can help. This includes regular prenatal care, a balanced diet, regular exercise, managing existing health conditions, and following your healthcare provider’s recommendations.

6: How is pre-eclampsia treated?

Answer: The only cure for pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby. Depending on the severity and the stage of pregnancy, treatments can include medication to lower blood pressure, corticosteroids to help mature the baby’s lungs if early delivery is necessary, and anticonvulsant medications to prevent seizures. Close monitoring of both mother and baby is essential.

7: What are the possible complications of pre-eclampsia?

Answer: Complications can be severe and include HELLP syndrome (haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelet count), eclampsia (seizures), organ damage, growth restriction of the baby, premature birth, and placental abruption. In rare cases, it can be fatal for both mother and baby.

8: Is pre-eclampsia common?

Answer: Pre-eclampsia affects about 5-8% of pregnancies worldwide. It is one of the leading causes of maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality.

9: Can pre-eclampsia recur in subsequent pregnancies?

Answer: Yes, women who have had pre-eclampsia in one pregnancy are at higher risk of developing it again in future pregnancies. The risk depends on factors such as the severity and timing of the previous pre-eclampsia, underlying health conditions, and overall maternal health.

10: What should I do if I suspect I have pre-eclampsia?

Answer: If you experience symptoms such as severe headaches, vision changes, severe upper abdominal pain, or severe swelling, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Early detection and management are crucial for the health and safety of both mother and baby.

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