What is Pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a condition affecting some pregnant women whereby there is a problem with the placenta. This can be dangerous to both the mother and baby.

What causes it?

The disease has been known for over 150 years, according to the BBC, but it is still unclear what actually causes it. Considering this, it is difficult to predict who will be affected. However, there are a few known risk factors, such as:

  • Having suffered it during a previous pregnancy
  • Family history – if the woman’s mother or sister has had it, for example
  • It is a first pregnancy, or first by a new partner
  • The woman is over the age of 35
  • She is expecting more than one baby
  • She has a chronic illness, including high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney problems or migraine

Pre-eclampsia can deprive an unborn baby of oxygen

Some believe pre-eclampsia may be down to a problem in the placenta, leading to its underdevelopment, the NHS reports.

The placenta is what lines the womb, and in the case of pregnancy becomes the main organ which links the mother’s blood supply to the baby’s. In order for food, oxygen and waste to be exchanged between the two properly, the placenta needs a steady supply of blood. Pre-eclampsia occurs when the placenta does not get enough blood.

What are the symptoms?

Pre-eclampsia does not occur before 20 weeks into the pregnancy and is most prevalent in the third trimester.

Symptoms for the mother-to-be usually start off very mild and gradually progress. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Excess protein in the urine
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal or shoulder pain
  • Blurred or altered vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive weight gain due to fluid retention
  • Confusion

The poor blood supply affects the baby’s growth and causes it to develop slower than normal.

Pre-eclampsia can lead to a premature birth

Could there be complications?

Complications of pre-eclampsia include convulsions, which can occur before the typical high blood pressure or after the birth. There is a risk of developing kidney failure and HELLP syndrome – a combined liver and blood clotting disorder.

The condition also accounts for around 15 per cent of premature births and those babies are often born much smaller than usual.

How is it treated?

Pre-eclampsia can only be prevented by delivering the baby early. Otherwise treatment focuses on trying to lower blood pressure, very close monitoring and bed rest.

Only further tests can determine the severity of the condition and appropriate treatment. If the condition is severe, the sufferer is usually admitted to hospital.

If you think you may be suffering from pre-eclampsia, you should seek the advice of your doctor or midwife immediately.

Click here to read about ectopic pregnancies, stretch marks and what happens during a miscarriage.

Images: Wikimedia Commons, WikiHow and cehwiedel

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