Preeclampsia: What you need to know about this Pregnancy Disorder

Written by: Sara Fisher

Do you know the warning signs of preeclampsia? Not so sure? You aren’t alone. The truth is that all women of childbearing age are at risk for a silent, but potentially life-threatening prenatal disease called preeclampsia.

May is National Preeclampsia Awareness Month here in Illinois. So what do YOU need to know about preeclampsia?

Q.  What is preeclampsia?

A. Preeclampsia is a rapidly-progressing condition affecting childbearing women, marked by high blood pressure and protein the urine. Preeclampsia is often silent, showing up unexpectedly during a routine blood pressure check and urine test. Preeclampsia affects at least 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies and accounts for 18 percent of US maternal deaths each year.

Q. What are the symptoms?

A. Swelling of the face and hands, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision are important symptoms, though some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms. Many signs and symptoms of preeclampsia mirror other “normal” effects of pregnancy on a woman’s body. Preeclampsia can appear any time during pregnancy, delivery, and up to six weeks postpartum.

Q. Why is preeclampsia dangerous?

A. Preeclampsia can cause a woman’s blood pressure to rise and puts her at risk of stroke or impaired kidney function, impaired liver function, blood clotting problems, pulmonary edema (fluid on the lungs), seizures and, in severe forms, maternal and infant death. Because preeclampsia affects the blood flow and placenta, babies can be smaller and are often born prematurely. Eclampsia, one of the most serious complications of severe preeclampsia, can cause seizures that result in coma, brain damage and possibly maternal or infant death.

Infants who survive preeclampsia but are born prematurely may sometimes face ongoing life challenges, such as learning disabilities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, blindness and deafness.

Q. Who is most at risk?

A. Preeclampsia is most common in first-time pregnancies. If you have had preeclampsia with your first pregnancy, you are more likely to experience it in subsequent pregnancies. Other significant risk factors include a history of chronic high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disorder; family history of the preeclampsia; women with greater than a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30, and multiple gestation (twins, triplets, or more); mother over age 40 or under 18 years of age; polycystic ovarian syndrome; and lupus or another autoimmune disorders such as MS or rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also important to know that preeclampsia can strike women who have none of these risk factors.

Q. How is it diagnosed and treated?

A. Preeclampsia can manifest in a very short time. A woman can have a normal prenatal appointment in the morning and be gravely ill in the afternoon. The best practice is to encourage a woman to err on the side of caution and contact her care provider immediately if she has any symptoms. Prompt treatment saves lives and early diagnosis through simple screening measures and good prenatal care can predict or delay many effects of the condition. The standard course of treatment is magnesium sulfate, a simple salt that has shown in clinical trials to prevent eclamptic seizures. For women whose preeclampsia occurs early in the pregnancy, the impact is more profound. Time off work, bed rest, medication and even hospitalization may be prescribed to keep blood pressure under control. Unfortunately the only “cure” for preeclampsia begins with delivery of the baby and placenta.

The Preeclampsia Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing maternal and infant illness and death due to preeclampsia, is proud to launch the fourth annual Chicago Promise Walk and 5K Run for Preeclampsiaon Sunday, May 19, 2013 at the Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village/Schaumburg, Illinois. This annual event is part of a nationwide effort to support innovative research and raise public awareness about the warning signs of preeclampsia, a life-threatening disorder of pregnancy.

Visit  www.promisewalk.org/chicago for more details and to register for the Chicago Promise Walk and 5K Run™.

By: Caitlin Giles of 2 Moms Media LLC on behalf of the Preeclampsia Foundation

Posted on April 30, 2013 at 10:08 AM