Preeclampsia is a terrifying condition that affects up to eight percent of American women every year. It's an incredibly frustrating health concern because it often happens rapidly - so rapidly that the symptoms are often misunderstood or missed entirely. In order to save the life of the mother and the child, preeclampsia must be immediately treated. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the incidence of preeclampsia has risen by 25% over the last twenty years. Since this condition can quickly kill pregnant women, it's imperative that we understand how to recognize the warning signs. Waiting for a doctor's appointment might be too late!
Most pregnant women who receive consistent prenatal care will provide a urine sample at each appointment. The lab is testing this sample for trace amounts of a protein called creatinine. This protein level is one of two diagnostic indicators that a woman is suffering from preeclampsia; the other being high blood pressure. Of course, these are the diagnostic tools - the symptoms aren't as obvious as you'd want them to be. This is why pre-eclampsia can be fatal! By the time a mother realizes they're not feeling well, the illness can progress far beyond a manageable level.
If a mother tests positive for pre-eclampsia, immediate delivery is the safest option for both mother and baby. Typically, the condition resolves itself upon delivery (similar to gestational diabetes). Unfortunately, delivery is not a guarantee that moms won't continue to struggle with pre-eclampsia. Some women have no pre-eclampsia symptoms during pregnancy and only experience them after delivery. This postpartum pre-eclampsia is especially dangerous for a few key reasons.
First, it's common for new moms to put themselves last and gloss over their own physical symptoms. The onslaught of hormonal shifts, sleep deprivation, and body changes can mask signs of pre-eclampsia. The symptoms can be somewhat subtle and easy to confuse with more average discomforts. It's important that you keep an eye out for the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Severe headache
- Minimal urine output
- Sudden weight gain (two pounds per week or more)
Second, even if moms have an eye out for these symptoms, pre-eclampsia may overtake them before they get a chance to seek medical treatment. If an unconscious woman comes into an emergency room and it's not evident that she recently gave birth, doctors could easily misdiagnose the issue. Not because they're bad doctors; because the medical history of recent delivery is a key piece of the puzzle.
Please heed this warning: don't dismiss these symptoms as anything less than serious. If you're worried you'll go to the ER simply to be diagnosed with a headache, swallow your pride and go in. Better to be wrong than to ignore what your body is trying to tell you! Pre-eclampsia is not an inconvenience - it is life-threatening and progresses rapidly. It's easy to underestimate the severity of your symptoms: "Oh, it's just a bad headache because I'm so tired. I haven't peed because I'm dehydrated." Don't be that person. If you have a support system with you in person, give them a list of symptoms, too! This way you've got more than just your own eyes on the situation. Pre-eclampsia isn't just an issue for expectant mothers. It can strike postpartum women, too - so mama, beware!
Did you experience pre-eclampsia after delivery? What symptoms did you have? Tell me about your experience on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 with #PostPartumPreEclampsia.