Pre-Eclampsia During Pregnancy

In many ways a pregnancy is quite a vulnerable time for your body, not to mention that of your unborn child. Pregnant women are susceptible to a number of conditions which develop as a consequence of this vulnerability. Fortunately we now have lots of information about how to keep healthy during a pregnancy, and what to look out for when our bodies are suffering under the many pressures a pregnancy can place on them. Pre-eclampsia is a condition that still affects many pregnant women across the world, and this article aims to give you some information about what exactly the condition is.

So what is pre-eclampsia?

This is a condition that tends to affect pregnant women in the latter half of the pregnancy, usually from 20 weeks onwards, although this can vary. The condition is basically defined by high blood pressure and the presence of proteins in urine (a condition called proteinuria), and is a set of particular symptoms more than anything else as the causes remain unclear.

The condition can also affect unborn babies, affecting their growth in the final few weeks of pregnancy when they tend to grow much more quickly in terms of size.

Pre-eclampsia is generally split into two broad categories, mild and severe pre-eclampsia. The former is thought to affect about 1 in 10 first time mums, while the severe form of the condition is thought to affect a much smaller percentage, about 1% to 2% of them.

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia

Surprisingly enough, many women with pre-eclampsia don’t actually realise that anything is wrong, and the illness is usually diagnosed during a routine antenatal appointment. As mentioned above the classic symptoms of pre-eclampsia include proteinuria and high blood pressure (the medical term for this is hypertension). Hypertension on its own isn’t a sign of pre-eclampsia, as a number of pregnant women suffer from a higher blood pressure without pre-eclampsia being the cause. These are the earliest symptoms of the condition, which progresses to other symptoms as the pregnancy continues.

The next stage usually involves oedema, which is an abnormal retention of fluids in the body which causes a noticeable swelling around the face, hands, feet, and ankles. Oedema is actually fairly common during pregnancies, but tends to affect the lower body more than anything else, and gradually increases over the course of the day. Pre-eclampsia however will often involve sudden swelling in areas of the upper as well as lower body, most notably, the face and hands as mentioned previously.

Overtime other symptoms crop up including headaches, blurry vision or flashing lights within the field of vision, vomiting, abdominal pain (usually higher up just under the ribs), and rapid weight gain (which is usually because of the aforementioned fluid retention. These are more serious symptoms which will usually occur later on in a pregnancy, and must be reported as soon as possible.

Complications caused by pre-eclampsia

If untreated, pre-eclampsia can cause a number of serious (but fortunately rare) complications that can pose serious risks to your health and that of your unborn child. These include strokes (where the blood supply to brain cells is reduced and brain cells begin to die), violent convulsions called eclampsia, and a clotting problem in the liver and blood called HELLP syndrome.

Pre-eclampsia can also affect the unborn child as growth is typically slowed down because of the poor blood supply to the foetus, a result of long term hypertension. A limited blood supply means that the foetus does not get as much nutrition or oxygen as it needs, and so can’t grow normally in what is called intra-uterine growth restriction.

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