Everything You Need to Know about Pre-Eclampsia
Pre-eclampsia affects 1 in 14 pregnant women. Learn all about this condition right here and be able to recognise the symptoms
Reading Time: 5 min read
You might not know yet whether your baby is going to look more like you or your partner, or whether they’ve picked up your adorably embarrassing laugh-snort, but there are things you can do now to keep baby, and you, healthy and safe. Like keeping an eye out for signs of pre-eclampsia.
In this guide, we’ll take you through what it is, what to look for and how it’s treated.
What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia only happens during pregnancy – just another great thing about pregnancy to add to the list! It’s quite common, affecting up to 1 in every 14 mums-to-be. It usually happens late in pregnancy but can happen as early as 20 weeks.
Usually it’s mild and has very little impact on your pregnancy. For a few women (1 in every 100), it can become serious.
The main feature of pre-eclampsia is high blood pressure. It affects other organs too, including your kidneys, liver, brain, placenta and blood clotting system.
What causes pre-eclampsia?
Even the experts don’t know. All they know is that in women who develop pre-eclampsia, the placenta doesn’t develop normally.
What can happen to me or my baby if I get pre-eclampsia?
It depends on how mild or severe it is and how early it happens. The biggest risks for you are:
- Kidneys or liver damage.
- A greater risk of stroke.
- An increased risk of blood clotting problems.
- A chance of bleeding from your placenta.
- Having seizures.
Your baby might not grow as well as they should, and they might have an increased risk of being premature or stillborn.
Am I at risk of developing pre-eclampsia?
Because we still don’t know what causes it, every pregnant woman has some risk of developing pre-eclampsia. There are some women at greater risk though. This could be you if you:
- Have had pre-eclampsia before.
- Are having your first baby or it’s been more than 10 years since your last one.
- Have a family history of pre-eclampsia.
- Suffer with high blood pressure before becoming pregnant.
- Have other medical conditions like kidney disease or diabetes.
- Are overweight.
- Are 40 years or older.
- Are expecting more than one baby.
- Had IVF.
Many women who develop pre-eclampsia will have none of these risk factors. That’s why all pregnant women get their blood pressure and urine checked regularly.
What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia?
Usually none. The first signs that you might have it are normally a rise in blood pressure and protein in your wee. Because you’ll be having your blood pressure and urine checked regularly, these should be picked up.
If not spotted, severe pre-eclampsia signs and symptoms might include:
- Ongoing or severe headaches.
- Eyesight changes like seeing spots or flashing lights, or blurry vision.
- Pain in your abdominal area or shoulder.
- Sudden and new swelling in your face, hands and eyes. Some feet and ankle swelling during pregnancy is normal, so that doesn’t count.
- Sudden weight gain. Which is more than 1kg in a week or more than 3kg in a month.
- Vomiting later in your pregnancy – not the nausea and morning sickness of early pregnancy.
- Difficulty breathing.
If you experience any of these, get medical advice as soon as you can.
How is pre-eclampsia diagnosed?
Through your regular antenatal blood pressure and urine checks.
How is pre-eclampsia treated?
Treatment for pre-eclampsia is aimed at prolonged the pregnancy until baby is big enough to be born safely without too much risk to mum or baby. Treatment options include:
- Rest and gentle activity – limit your activity, avoid stress and rest as you need to. Most women don’t need to be on continual bed rest.
- Time in hospital – if you’ve got severe pre-eclampsia, you might be admitted to hospital so that the doctors can keep a close eye on you and baby.
- Medication – which will help to lower your blood pressure. Although it won’t cure your pre-eclampsia, it’ll help keep you safe while you wait for baby to develop more.
- Delivery – if you’re diagnosed near the end of your pregnancy, your labour might be induced straightaway. That’s because the only cure for pre-eclampsia is giving birth.
What happens after birth?
Pre-eclampsia goes away after birth, but not instantly. It could get worse for the first few days which means you’ll need close supervision – you may have to stay in hospital. This can be very frustrating for you and your whānau as you might be separated from your baby. Try to be patient and know that this is happening to give both you and your baby the best chance at being safe and well.
If you’ve had severe pre-eclampsia, you might get offered a specialist appointment in a few months’ time. You can discuss what happened and what might happen in future pregnancies. Once you’ve had pre-eclampsia, you’re at greater risk of having it again so it’s good to start the conversations early.