Recognise the warning signs of the pregnancy condition pre-eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia, or toxaemia, is a condition that can pose a serious risk to you and your baby. It’s widely screened for throughout pregnancy. You can be prepared by following our guide to the warning signs and making sure you attend all your antenatal checks.Pre-eclampsia almost always occurs after week 20 and usually after week 30. Its main characteristics are high blood pressure and protein in urine and there are several other symptoms, including severe swelling in the hands, feet and face and bad headaches. However, many women with pre-eclampsia can feel perfectly well, particularly in the early stages of the illness. This is unfortunate as if left untreated the condition can pose a serious risk to both you and your baby. A simple urine test can pick up the condition and proper antenatal care can prevent more serious complications developing.
Pre-eclampsia prevents the placenta from working properly, limiting the supply of food and oxygen to your baby and may also affect your kidneys, liver, lungs, brain and blood clotting system. As the name suggests, pre-eclampsia may develop into full eclampsia, leading to fits and coma, and may be fatal, but this is very rare.Before you start to panic, you should be aware that these days most women with pre-eclampsia go on to deliver healthy babies. The majority of cases occur in the final weeks of pregnancy and the more serious complications are avoided. The key to limiting the risks is in timely diagnosis and good health care.
As some women can experience no obvious symptoms of pre-eclampsia, it’s vital to go to your regular pregnancy health checks to have your blood pressure and urine checked. There are other reasons why you may have high blood pressure or protein in your urine, so having one of these symptoms doesn't mean that you have pre-eclampsia. Up to 10% of pregnant women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, which is known as gestational hypertension. If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure then your GP should keep a close watch on you and conduct more frequent urine tests for protein.Any one of many signs can be present without pre-eclampsia and, in particular, some swelling is to be expected during pregnancy and some pregnant women are more prone to headaches. Even so, it’s still sensible to report any of these symptoms to your GP or midwife as soon as you can.
You and your baby will be closely monitored to see how the condition is affecting you both. Milder cases may be treatable from home. If you have mild pre-eclampsia, you’ll be advised to cut down your activities to a minimum. However, hospitalisation and complete bed-rest may also be necessary. Drugs may be prescribed to control blood pressure but the only proper cure for pre-eclampsia is the birth of your baby. Depending on how serious the condition, an early delivery in the last weeks of pregnancy by induction or by caesarean could be likely. In a few cases where pre-eclampsia develops early and poses a significant risk to you and your baby, premature delivery may be the only option.Following delivery all symptoms should disappear within two weeks.
If you've had pre-eclampsia in an earlier pregnancy you do have a higher risk of developing the condition again, but there's also a very good chance that you'll have a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy.With each subsequent pre-eclampsia pregnancy the risk of a repeat in the next pregnancy is increased.
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