An Overview On Preeclampsia: Definition, Signs, And Symptoms

Most women are lucky enough to have wonderful, healthy pregnancies from beginning to end. They go through the nine months without any major complications and deliver their newborn into this world without any difficulty. However, some of us experience mishaps in between months. As for me, I felt great during my first trimester. I wasn’t nauseated and didn’t have any massive bingeing habits.

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On my sixth month, though, I was feeling quite woozy and often vomited. I had pounding headaches, which would just occur suddenly. When I realized that I had gained a lot of weight and my face, feet, and hands were swollen, I knew I had to go to the doctor. That’s when my OB-GYN told me that I had a condition called preeclampsia.

 

What Is Preeclampsia?

The occurrence of hypertension and proteinuria characterizes preeclampsia during pregnancy. Also called pregnancy-induced hypertension or PIH, preeclampsia usually presents on the sixth month to the third trimester of a woman’s pregnancy period, although it may occur earlier. Preeclampsia that is left untreated is a definite risk for developing eclampsia, which is a more dangerous condition that presents with seizures secondary to hypertension. This is potentially fatal and may lead to the death of either the mother or the baby, or both.

On rare circumstances, preeclampsia can develop after the mother delivers the baby, and this is called postpartum preeclampsia.

 

What Causes Preeclampsia?

The exact cause of preeclampsia remains unclear but is believed to be a result of a dysfunctional placenta. Possible causes also include poor nutrition, immune system abnormalities, not enough blood supply going to the uterus, increased body fat, and genetics. Preeclampsia is predominantly seen among first-time mothers, pregnant teens, and pregnant women who are more than 40 years old.

Here is a list of the potential risk factors for pregnant women to develop preeclampsia:

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  • History of past diagnosis of preeclampsia
  • History of hypertension before pregnancy
  • Family history (mother or sisters with preeclampsia)
  • History of obesity
  • History of renal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or diabetes
  • Race (Black women are said to have a higher risk)
  • Multiple pregnancies (having twins or triplets)
  • Attempting to have a baby through in vitro fertilization

 

What Are The Signs Of Preeclampsia?

Unfortunately, there have been cases wherein pregnant women don’t experience symptoms before suffering from preeclampsia. Their blood pressure rises slowly or perhaps suddenly. It is therefore essential for pregnant women to regularly monitor their blood pressure, as increased blood pressure is usually the first sign of preeclampsia.

Other signs and symptoms that may lead to preeclampsia include but are not limited to:

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  • Severe headaches
  • Visual abnormalities, such as light sensitivity and transient loss of vision
  • Increased protein in urine and other renal abnormalities
  • Right upper abdominal pain
  • Dizziness and vomiting
  • Thrombocytopenia (decreased platelet levels)
  • Abnormal liver function
  • Shortness of breath

Edema and rapid weight gain could be possible symptoms of preeclampsia. However, these symptoms can also be present in women with normal pregnancies, and therefore are not reliable determinants of preeclampsia.

 

How Can Preeclampsia Be Prevented?

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Researchers around the world are continually studying to find ways on how to avoid the occurrence and the complications of preeclampsia but to no avail. The strategies that were previously suggested – exercise, diet, regular intake of garlic and fish oil – have not shown to decrease the incidence of the condition. There have also been no successful outcomes from regularly taking vitamins E and C. Some studies showed promising results in linking vitamin D supplementation and a decreased risk for preeclampsia, but other studies proved this wrong.

Some pregnant women, however, may experience a decreased risk of preeclampsia by taking low-dose aspirin. Once the doctor sees a good outcome, he recommends the pregnant mom to regularly take 81 mg of aspirin after her 12th week of pregnancy.

Calcium supplementation may also help, particularly those who have had previous calcium deficiency and are not getting enough calcium while they are pregnant.

It is imperative, though, that all pregnant women should not take any medications or supplements without informing their primary care physician.

 

Bottom Line

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Since preeclampsia is an inevitable condition in most women who are overweight or have previous hypertension, it is always safe to make sure that you are healthy and fit before planning to get pregnant. If you need to lose weight or exercise to manage your sugar levels, then start doing it now.

Once pregnant, you should take care of yourself by going to your prenatal checkups regularly. This way, your doctor can monitor early signs of preeclampsia. Then both of you can work together on preventing further complications to occur. If you want the best care, you can ask to be referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

 

 

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