What Is Preeclampsia And How Dangerous Is It?

Once upon a time, I was a technician for theatre and movies. These jobs were all about “hurry up and wait.” There was a lot of standing around and not much going on, occasionally punctuated by bursts of immediate attention, fast thinking, and heroism. For me, being pregnant was pretty much the same thing. The vast majority of the experience was a passive waiting game, nothing going on, everything fine.

But, punctuating those aeons of normalcy were the occasional situations that challenged me, that switched life into overdrive, and that made me appreciate the boring times. Most of my experience of pregnancy and giving birth was routine, everyday, no big deal.

But there were a few situations that jolted me out of routine and demanded serious immediate attention and serious bravery. In case I wasn't one before, pregnancy and giving birth turned me into a grown-up.

Preeclampsia is one such growth opportunity. Preeclampsia is is a fairly rare hypertensive disorder with potentially dangerous complications. If it happens to you, it will switch your life into overdrive. So far there is no conclusive research about what causes it or how to avoid it.

Since you probably live in a developed country with access to health care, your chances of experiencing negative complications from this disorder are lower than the worldwide average. But you should still know about it. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more freedom and control you will feel in your life.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

7 What Are Signs Of Preeclampsia I Can Watch Out For And Promptly Tell My Doctor?

Short answer: Don't assume anything you feel is just standard-issue pregnancy, because you never know. If it's not preeclampsia, it might be something else. Play it ridiculously safe, when you're incubating a new human inside you.

Tell your doctor right away whenever you feel anything weird or new, at all, ever. It's best to find out and be sure, and if you do have something, prompt attention can make all the difference.

Long answer: Preeclampsia can progress asymptomatically, which is part of why they check your blood pressure and make you pee into a cup every time you go to the doctor. But here are some more noticeable symptoms that could indicate potential preeclampsia: headaches, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, peeing less, edema, sudden weight gain, burning behind the sternum, nausea, vomiting, confusion, heightened state of anxiety, and visual disturbances such as oversensitivity to light, blurred vision, and seeing flashing spots or auras.

Preeclampsia is usually diagnosed by elevated blood pressure after the twentieth week of pregnancy and excessive proteins in the urine. Preeclampsia can go from “no big deal” to “life-threatening” extremely quickly. And of that list of symptoms, some are bigger red flags than others.

Red flag symptoms that should send you immediately to either your doctor or to the emergency room are severe headaches, blurred vision, severe abdominal pain, or severe shortness of breath. (How do you know if it counts as “severe,” you're probably wondering. I say, in the interest of playing it safe, don't over think this question. This is not the time to say, “oh, I'm fine, it's just a little abdominal pain.” This is the time to go to the doctor.)

6 What Are Possible Complications Of Preeclampsia?

Short answer: The complications are the dangerous aspect of preeclampsia. Knowing the possibilities takes the surprise factor out of staring into your future, so take a deep breath and read on.

Long answer: Preeclampsia can prevent blood flow to the placenta, and if the placenta doesn't get enough blood, your baby doesn't get enough oxygen or nutrients. This leads to slow growth, thin babies, and preemies. Preemies have their own tough row to hoe, as breathing can be difficult for babies who didn't have enough time in the oven to finish developing their respiratory system. Pr

Preeclampsia can also lead to placental abruption, which is when the placenta rips away from the uterine wall. A bad rip can damage and cause bleeding in the placenta, which in turn can be fatal for you and your baby. Preeclampsia can also pose a risk of liver rupture.

Preeclampsia can also lead to HELLP Syndrome, which can quickly become life-threatening for you and your baby. HELLP stands for Hemolysis (the destruction of red blood cells), Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count, and indicates damage to multiple organ systems. HELLP can suddenly present, out of the blue, even without high blood pressure.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, and upper right abdominal pain. So why play Russian Roulette with two people's lives? Why say “it's just a headache?” Take your symptoms to your doctor. That's what they're there for.

Another possible issue is eclampsia, which is preeclampsia that also has seizures, and poses serious risks to you and your baby, such as the possibility of the mother going into a coma, brain damage for the mother, and death for either the mother or the baby. Eclampsia has the same red flag symptoms as HELLP does: watch out for upper right abdominal pain, severe headache, vision problems, and loss of alertness or ordinary mental functioning.

Lastly, having preeclampsia leaves you with a higher risk of future heart and cardiovascular disease. You can offset this higher risk by doing what you presumably are already planning on doing anyway: eat a variety of fruits and vegetables as part of a varied and wholesome diet, exercise regularly, practice a healthy life-work balance, and don't smoke.

5 What Happens Next If I Am Diagnosed With Preeclampsia?

Short answer: You will be monitored carefully and, maybe sooner, maybe later, you will give birth.

Long answer: Your doctor will combine a lot of factors into their preeclampsia-calculus, while monitoring you. They will consider your baby's age and health, your age and health, and your blood pressure. They will also do tests to check on your kidneys, liver, and blood-clotting capacity.

They will watch you for signs of instability, kidney or liver failure, reduced red blood cells, and high blood pressure that fails to respond to antihypertensive drugs. And, they will watch you for possibilities of stroke or seizure. They might give your baby steroid injections to encourage lung development.

They will also check on your baby's growth: if she isn't growing, or if she does poorly on a stress test, she might not survive if left inside you. If the doctor cannot stabilize the preeclampsia, your baby will have to be born, no matter how young. If you've been gestating for less than 30 weeks, a C-section may be necessary. On the other hand if your baby is growing, your doctor will most likely try to keep her inside for 37 weeks.

Your doctor may recommend bed rest and lying on your left side. They may also recommend drinking more water and consuming less salt, and potentially blood pressure medication as well. I also suggest finding a mentally challenging hobby to distract yourself, such as prenatal yoga, playing a difficult instrument, or working for Goldman Sachs. After 37 weeks, your doctor will most likely deliver your baby.

4 What Are Potential Effects Of Preeclampsia On My Baby And Me?

Short answer: If you are put under medical supervision and treated right away, your baby and you will both probably be fine. Most women with preeclampsia deliver healthy babies.

Long answer: Although preeclampsia only affects a small percentage of pregnancies, it is no joke. Preeclampsia complications can potentially even be fatal to mother or baby, especially when treatment is delayed. This is why you must keep an eye on all your feelings and symptoms and speak up immediately, so you can get the treatment you need as soon as you need it.

Also, after delivery, your high blood pressure will probably go back down, but it might not. Some women have high blood pressure for the rest of their lives and need monitoring and anti-hypertensive medications. Also, having preeclampsia doubles your risk of having a stroke at some point in the future. Lastly, preeclampsia increases your risk of diabetes and kidney disease. Not wonderful news, but better to know now and be informed.

3 Who Can Develop Preeclampsia?

Short answer: Pregnant ladies can develop preeclampsia.

Long answer: Mothers who have had it before, mothers who are having their first baby, mothers who are carrying multiple babies, fat mothers, teen mothers, and mothers over 40.

Also at risk are mothers with a family history of preeclampsia, IVF mothers, and mothers with sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, hypertension, lupus or other autoimmune disorders, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.

These women all have a higher than average likelihood of developing preeclampsia.

2 When Does Preeclampsia Occur?

Short answer: Preeclampsia is generally diagnosed after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Long answer: You can develop preeclampsia any time through pregnancy, delivery, and the six weeks post-partum. It can slowly evolve or it can appear all at once. It most commonly presents in the last trimester and is over within a couple days of giving birth. Preeclampsia is more dangerous for post-partum mothers than for pregnant mothers, and the vast majority of women who die from preeclampsia die post-partum.

This is because post-partum mothers are busy taking care of their new babies, and experiencing a host of other physical changes in their bodies, and it's easier for them to miss the warning signs.

So although your attention may be elsewhere, keep an eye on yourself, assign someone else the job as well, and speak up right away if something's off.

1 How Is Preeclampsia Resolved?

Short answer: You have the baby. Preeclampsia usually resolves within six weeks of birth.

Long answer: Your doctor will watch you and weigh your health against that of your baby. Your doctor might give you medications like magnesium sulfate or treatments to prolong the pregnancy, to increase your baby's chance of living.

But in some cases, immediate delivery regardless of age may be the only way to save your life or your baby's life. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

You probably won't be diagnosed with preeclampsia, but I'm glad you read this, so that you know that it's out there and how important it is to keep an eye out for warning signs. And you never know. My mom had preeclampsia when she was pregnant with my sister. Both came out fine.

The point is, it's out there, and by providing yourself with information, you'll be a little better emotionally armed in case it happens to you. If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia, please be extra kind to yourself, and do what you can to keep your mind busy.

I hope all pregnant ladies have social support networks, and please turn to your social support network and seek whatever solidarity, empathy, entertainment, healthy distraction, or hug will help you make your way through this challenge.

More in WOW!