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If you're pregnant, you may have heard of preeclampsia from your family, friends, or doctors. In fact, preeclampsia is the most common complication during pregnancy affecting roughly one in twenty pregnant women. But what causes it and what should you watch for during your pregnancy? We spoke with board-certified gynecologist and obstetrician Gargey Patil, MD to find out what signs to look for and how this condition can affect your pregnancy.
"Preeclampsia is a condition marked by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the kidneys and liver," explains Dr. Patil. "It usually starts to become apparent after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If it's left untreated it can lead to serious complications for both you and your baby."
1. Risk Factors
"The first thing to take into consideration when you're pregnant are the risk factors associated with preeclampsia," says Dr. Patil. "If this isn't your first child and you've had a history of preeclampsia, then you're automatically at a higher risk for it happening again."
Other risk factors:
- Your first pregnancy
- A multifetal pregnancy (twins)
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Advanced maternal age (if you're over 35 years old)
- Blood clotting disorders
- Family history of preeclampsia
2. Signs of Preeclampsia
"Once you've factored in your level of risk for preeclampsia you should be tested during each visit by your doctor during your pregnancy," says Dr. Patil. "The signs associated with preeclampsia are your blood pressure being higher than 140 over 90 and your urine containing high levels of proteins. If you have the high blood pressure but not the proteins in your urine, then you have what is called gestational hypertension."
If your doctor finds your blood pressure is elevated during a checkup, they'll likely give you a urine test. If they don't but you are still having symptoms, be sure to explain that to them clearly.
Preeclampsia is diagnosed by having your blood pressure monitored four hours apart and having it be higher than 140 over 90 both times.
"The symptoms of preeclampsia can be similar to those of a migraine plus abdominal pain," says Dr. Patil. "Common symptoms include severe headaches, blurry vision or spots in your vision, and upper right abdominal pain centered around the liver."
If you're experiencing some, or all, of these symptoms, tell your doctor immediately. Without treatment, your preeclampsia can turn into eclampsia and then it's an emergency that may require the early delivery of your baby to save both your lives.
4. Early Intervention
"It's very important that your preeclampsia is diagnosed early on, that way it can be monitored and treated appropriately," explains Dr. Patil. "Because 'preeclampsia' can turn into 'preeclampsia with severe features' over time or all at once, it's very important to prevent that from happening."
Treatment for preeclampsia is typically pregnancy-safe blood pressure medication that may be combined with meditation or other relaxation techniques. The symptoms associated with preeclampsia are treated during this time, as well.
Preeclampsia with severe features is marked by your blood pressure being higher than 160 over 110, a platelet count of less than 100,000, an abnormal liver function test, severe pain, impaired liver and kidney function, pulmonary edema (water in the lungs), severe headaches, and blurred or spotty vision. And if it's determined that you have preeclampsia with severe features it will likely mean that your baby will have to be delivered early.
5. Early Delivery
"Typically, women with preeclampsia have their babies at around 37 weeks," says Dr. Patil. "However, if your preeclampsia is not stabilized this may mean that your baby will have to be delivered even more prematurely to ensure the safety of you both."
Eclampsia occurs when you begin to have seizures along with your other symptoms and at that point the doctors have no other choice but to deliver your baby. If you're not yet at 37 weeks, a consultation of doctors will be held, and they'll determine the proper course of action through consensus.
Babies delivered prematurely these days have excellent survival rates but it's always preferable to give them as long as possible in the warmth and comfort of their mother's womb to grow and mature.
Find a Specialist
We believe in the whole health and well-being of you and your baby from conception to birth and beyond and are committed to providing you with the best care available. Please visit Florida Hospital for Women or call 407-303-4HER to make an appointment or to speak with one of our specialists about your next steps on the path to motherhood.