Causes,Symptoms and Complications of Pre-eclampsia:Is your Pregnancy at Risk

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Doctor Atul Ganatra,Gynecologist,Wockhardt Hospitals,Mumbai shares his thoughts on Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia.

What is Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is a complication of pregnancy.Women with pre-eclampsia have high blood pressure, protein in their urine, & may develop swelling of feet etc .The more severe the pre-eclampsia, the greater the risk of serious complicationsto both mother and baby.

Pre-eclampsia is thought to be due to a problem with the afterbirth (placenta), and so delivering the baby early is the usual treatment.Medication may be advised to help prevent complications.

Difference Between Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia?

  • Pre-eclampsia is a condition that only occurs during pregnancy .
  • It causes high blood pressure, protein leaks from the kidneys into the urine, & swelling of feet
  • Other symptoms may develop (see below).
  • It usually develops after the 20th week of pregnancy. The severity of pre-eclampsia can vary. Serious complications may affect the mother, the baby, or both.
  • The more severe the condition becomes, the greater the risk that complications will develop. Regular check up is hence necessary in pregnancy.
  • Eclampsia is a type of seizure (convulsion) which is a life-threatening complication of pregnancy. About 1 in 100 women with pre-eclampsia develop eclampsia.
  • most women with pre-eclampsia do not progress to have eclampsia.
  • However, a main aim of treatment and care of women with pre-eclampsia is to prevent eclampsia and other possible complications (listed below).

Who can gets pre-eclampsia?

Any pregnant woman can develop pre-eclampsia. It occurs in about 1 in 14 pregnancies.

However, you have an increased risk of developing pre-eclampsia if you:

• Are pregnant for the first time, or are pregnant for the first time by a new partner. About 1 in 30 women develop pre-eclampsia in their first pregnancy.

• Have had pre-eclampsia before.

• Have a family history of pre-eclampsia. Particularly if it occurred in your mother or sister.

• Had high blood pressure before the pregnancy started.

• Have diabetes, systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), or chronic (persistent) kidney disease.

• Are aged below 20 or above 35.

• Have a pregnancy with twins, triplets, or more.

• Are obese.

What causes pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia runs in some families so there may be some genetic factor.Pre-eclampsia can also affect various other parts of the mothers body. It is thought that substances released from the placenta (afterbirth) go around the body and damage the blood vessels, making them become leaky.

How is pre-eclampsia detected?

Pre-eclampsia can develop anytime after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia is present if:

• your blood pressure becomes high, and
• you have an abnormal amount of protein in your urine.

Understanding blood pressure readings

Normal blood pressure is below 140/90 mmHg. The first number (systolic pressure) is the pressure at the height of the contraction of the heart. The second number (diastolic pressure) is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between each heart beat.

• Mildly high blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or above, but below 160/100 mmHg.

• Moderate to severe high blood pressure is 160/100 mmHg or above.

High blood pressure can be:

Just a high systolic pressure, for example, 170/70 mmHg or just a high diastolic pressure, for example, 130/104 mmHg. Or both, for example, 170/110 mmHg.

However, any substantial rise in the blood pressure from a reading taken in early pregnancy is a concern, even if it does not get as high as the levels listed above. (You may have quite low blood pressure to start with.)

Is pre-eclampsia the same as high blood pressure of pregnancy?

No. Many pregnant women develop mild high blood pressure. Most do not have pre-eclampsia. With pre-eclampsia you have high blood pressure, plus protein in your urine, and sometimes other symptoms and complications listed below. About 1 in 5 pregnant women with high blood pressure progress to pre-eclampsia.

Therefore, if you develop mild high blood pressure, it is vital that you have regular ante-natal checks which can detect pre-eclampsia, if it occurs, as early as possible.

What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia and how does it progress?

The severity of pre-eclampsia is usually (but not always) related to the blood pressure level. You may have no symptoms at first, or if you have only mildly raised blood pressure and a small amount of leaked protein in your urine. If pre-eclampsia becomes worse, one or more of the following symptoms may develop. See a doctor or midwife if any of these occur.

• Headaches.

• Blurring of vision, or other visual problems.

• Abdominal (tummy) pain. The pain that occurs with pre-eclampsia tends to be mainly in the upper part of the abdomen, just under the ribs.

• Vomiting.

• Just not feeling right. Swelling or puffiness of your feet, face, or hands (edema) is also a feature of pre-eclampsia. However, this is common in normal pregnancy. Most women with this symptom do not have pre-eclampsia, but it can become worse in pre-eclampsia. Therefore, report any sudden worsening of swelling of the hands, face or feet promptly to your doctor or midwife. Regular checks may be all that you need if pre-eclampsia remains relatively mild. If pre-eclampsia becomes worse, you are likely to be admitted to hospital. Tests may be done to check on your well-being, and that of your baby. For example, blood tests to check on the function of your liver and kidneys. Also, an ultrasound scan is usual to see how well your baby is growing.

What are the possible complications of pre-eclampsia?

Most women with pre-eclampsia do not develop serious complications. The risks increase the more severe as the pre-eclampsia becomes.

Complications for the mother

Serious complications are uncommon but include the following.
• Eclampsia (described above).
• Liver, kidney, and lung problems.
• A blood clotting disorder.
• A stroke (bleeding into the brain).
• Severe bleeding from the placenta.

HELLP syndrome occurs in about 1 in 5 women who have severe pre-eclampsia. HELLP stands for 'haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets' which are some of the medical features of this severe form of pre-eclampsia. Haemolysis means that the blood cells start to break down. Elevated liver enzymes means that the liver has become affected. Low platelets means that the number of platelets in the blood is low and you are at risk of serious bleeding problems.

For the baby

  • The poor blood supply in the placenta can reduce the amount of nutrients and oxygen to the growing baby. On average, babies of mothers with pre-eclampsia tend to be smaller. There is also an increased risk of stillbirth.
  • About 10 women, and several hundred babies, die each year in the UK from the complications of severe pre-eclampsia. The risk of complications is reduced if pre-eclampsia is diagnosed early and treated.

What is the treatment for pre-eclampsia?

Delivering the baby

The only complete cure is to deliver the baby. At delivery the placenta (often called the afterbirth) is delivered just after the baby. Therefore, the cause of the condition is removed. After the birth, the blood pressure and any other symptoms in the mother usually soon settle.
It is common practice to induce labour if pre-eclampsia occurs late in the pregnancy. A caesarean section can be done if necessary. The risk to the baby is small if he or she is born just a few weeks early. However, a difficult decision may have to be made if pre-eclampsia occurs earlier in the pregnancy. The best time to deliver the baby has to balance several factors which include:

• The severity of the condition in the mother, and the risk of complications occurring.
• How badly the baby is affected.
• The chance of a premature baby doing well. As a rule, the later in pregnancy the baby is born, the better.

However, some babies grow very poorly if the placenta does not work well in severe pre-eclampsia. They may do much better if they are born, even if they are premature. As a rule, if pre-eclampsia is severe, then delivery sooner rather than later is best. If the pre-eclampsia is not too severe, then postponing delivery until nearer full term may be best

Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year.


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