Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure, which can be fatal to both a woman and her unborn baby if left untreated.
It usually starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure is usually normal.
The most effective treatment is early delivery; usually by caesarean section.
However, this may not be best for the baby if it is still early in the pregnancy.
Preeclampsia affects about 25,000 women in England and Wales each year, and affects four percent of pregnancies in the US.
It may have no symptoms if it develops gradually rather than coming on suddenly.
A blood pressure reading of more than 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) on two occasions is usually the first sign.
Other symptoms may include:
- Severe headache
- Blurred vision, temporary loss of vision or sensitivity to light
- Pain in the upper abdomen, especially under the ribs on the right side
- Nausea or vomiting
- Decreased urination
- Shortness of breath due to accumulation of fluid in the lungs
Sudden weight gain and swelling in the face and hands are also symptoms, but they can occur during normal pregnancies.
Placental preeclampsia is thought to start when the blood vessels narrow and don’t respond properly to hormones.
This reduces the amount of blood flowing through it.
The underlying cause may be genetic, due to a problem with a woman’s immune system or existing blood vessel damage.
A woman is more at risk if she, or a member of her family, has previously had preeclampsia.
The risk is also highest during the first pregnancy and if a woman is older than 40; obese; black; having multiple births, such as twins; or conceived through IVF.
Existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines and kidney disease also increase the risk.
If left untreated, preeclampsia can limit a baby’s growth or cause it to be delivered early.
The placenta can also detach from the uterine wall, which can lead to severe bleeding.
A woman can also experience seizures, organ damage, and even heart disease as a result of untreated preeclampsia.
While treatment usually induces labor, medications may be prescribed to lower a woman’s blood pressure if it’s too early to deliver the baby.
There is no clear advice on how to prevent preeclampsia, but research suggests that taking low-dose aspirin and calcium supplements may help.
Pregnant women should consult their doctor before taking any medications or supplements.
Source: Mayo clinic