Preeclampsia: The Basics
What Is It?
This potentially serious disorder is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. It may also be accompanied by swelling of the hands and face, sudden weight gain (5 or more pounds in one week), blurred vision, and stomach pain. You should contact your doctor if you develop any of these symptoms. Preeclampsia affects about 5 percent of pregnant women, most of whom are having their first baby. Unfortunately, preeclampsia's cause remains unknown.
How Do I Know If I Have It?
If you have mild preeclampsia, you may not have any obvious symptoms, so you're unlikely to suspect that something is wrong. That's one reason it's so important to keep all your prenatal appointments. At each visit your healthcare provider will measure your blood pressure and evaluate your urine for protein to check for preeclampsia, so it can be diagnosed and treated quickly.
What Are the Risks Associated with It?
If left untreated, preeclampsia can cause severe problems for you and your baby. This condition may slow your baby's growth and increase your risk of preterm delivery and placental abruption, the separation of the placenta from the uterine wall before delivery.
How Can It Be Treated?
Your healthcare provider can proceed with treatment for preeclampsia, depending upon its severity and how far along you are in pregnancy. If you develop severe preeclampsia after 34 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor may opt to induce labor or, if your case is mild, you can simply reduce your activities. In this situation, you will also need to see your healthcare provider frequently to evaluate your baby's well-being with tests such as ultrasound and fetal heart rate monitoring.
However, women who develop severe preeclampsia before 34 weeks may require hospitalization. This will allow the baby extra time to mature, reducing the risk of serious health complications from prematurity.
If you develop mild preeclampsia after your 37th week of pregnancy, and your cervix has begun to dilate (a sign that it's ready for delivery), your healthcare provider may recommend inducing labor. Inductions are often able to head off potential complications.