Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a common complication of pregnancy. It can lead to serious medical problems for mother and child, and increases the risk of birth injuries.

Preeclampsia is one of the most common birth complications in the United States. In fact, one out every 20 women develop it.  It is incredibly important that healthcare providers discuss preeclampsia with women who are pregnant. Recognizing the symptoms and getting immediate medical care is important to reduce the risk of complications or birth injuries.

What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia occurs when there is a rise in blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy, and is often marked by signs of organ damage. It generally starts around the 20th week of pregnancy. Any symptoms of this condition should be treated seriously, as even a slight rise in blood pressure may lead to life-threatening conditions.

Preeclampsia Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms associated with preeclampsia, yet in some instances, it will develop without the mother noticing any symptoms at all. Consequently, it’s imperative to monitor blood pressure throughout pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic suggests that blood pressure that’s 140/90 or higher is abnormal. 

Symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Edema (swelling in the hands and face)
  • Nausea, sometimes accompanied with vomiting
  • Poor liver function
  • Excessive protein in the urine
  • Pain below the rib cage
  • Severe headaches
  • Blurry vision

Risk Factors Associated with Preeclampsia

There are quite a few risk factors that heightens a pregnant woman’s risk of developing preeclampsia, including:

  • Maternal age of 40 or older
  • Previous pregnancies with preeclampsia
  • First pregnancies
  • Maternal obesity
  • Carrying more than one infant
  • A pregnancy with a different partner than previous pregnancies
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Lupus

Preeclampsia Complications

When preeclampsia occurs, both mother and infant are at risk for serious health complications, including:

  • Placental abruption
  • Eclampsia (preeclampsia accompanied with seizures)
  • HELLP (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets)
  • Poor blood flow to the placenta, which can result in oxygen deprivation at birth
  • Increased risk of developing heart and blood vessel diseases

Is There a Cure for Preeclampsia?

There is not currently a cure for preeclampsia aside from delivery. The best treatment is usually relegated to a lack of strenuous activity, often bed rest. Medications, such as antihypertensives, corticosteroids, seizure prophylaxis in labor and anticonvulsants may also be prescribed.

In severe cases of preeclampsia, the mother will often be scheduled for a Cesarean section (c-section). Mothers who are diagnosed towards the end of pregnancy, when the infant is viable, may have induced labor if a C-section is not necessary. This is so that the child stays as healthy as possible and doesn’t go into fetal distress.  If labor isn’t treated carefully, the child can develop physical and neurological problems, and may have special needs well into childhood.

Unfortunately, because the only cure for preeclampsia is delivery, that often means women will experience an emergency C-section and preterm birth. This can further increase the risk of birth injuries. Infants born to mothers with preeclampsia are at a higher risk of:

How is Preeclampsia Related to Cerebral Palsy?

There is still much about cerebral palsy that doctors don’t quite understand. However, studies indicate that mothers who have preeclampsia are more likely to have children with cerebral palsy if the infant is born prematurely. In some cases, preeclampsia causes mothers to go into labor early, delivering babies that are born at 37 weeks or earlier.

Doctors don’t quite know if preeclampsia causes cerebral palsy, but research suggests that mothers who deliver babies between the gestational ages of 32 and 36 weeks are almost five times more likely to have babies who develop cerebral palsy.

Preventative Tips

Although there isn’t a cure yet for preeclampsia, there are few preventative tips that can help mothers control the risk of developing it, including taking a daily low-dose aspirin and taking calcium supplements daily. In addition, it’s always a good idea to limit salt intake during pregnancy and to eat as healthy as possible. However, before taking any medications or vitamins, always consult your physician beforehand.

Kimberly Langdon

Page Medically Reviewed By Kim Langdon, M.D.

Kimberly Langdon, M.D. is a retired board-certified OB/GYN with 19 years of clinical experience. She currently works as a medical writer and featured healthcare expert. She is a regular medical reviewer for Birth Injury Guide.

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Written By BIG Staff

The team at Birth Injury Guide is comprised of lawyers, doctors, nurses and professional writers. We strive to provide up-to-date content that is accurate and relevant to the needs of families affected by birth injuries.

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