Pre-eclampsia is one of the more common and potentially dangerous pregnancy complications, that is typically characterized by a persistently elevated maternal blood pressure greater than of 140/90. Pre-eclampsia usually begins no earlier than 20 weeks of pregnancy. It is known to be more common in women experiencing their first pregnancy or in women with chronic hypertension, twins, kidney disease or in women with a prior history of pre-eclampsia, but may occur in any pregnancy.
Early in it’s process, there may be minimal or no symptoms. The most common developing symptoms present in pre-eclampsia can be hard to distinguish from normal pregnancy as they include swelling in the legs, water retention, sudden weight gain, blurry vision, headaches, and indigestion. Because pre-eclampsia affects the placenta it may cause poor fetal growth, premature birth and/or stillbirth. Undetected pre-eclampsia can lead to serious, or fatal complications for both mother and baby. It may cause a woman to have a seizure, called “eclampsia”, a stroke, or liver and kidney failure. Occasionally pre-eclampsia may occur postpartum.
For these reasons, screening for pre-eclampsia is a part of every routine prenatal and postpartum visit, and it is important for every woman to be knowledgeable about her blood pressure. Often in the last month of pregnancy there may be a slight rise in blood pressure, which can be normal. Significantly elevated blood pressure in excess of what has been found in previous visits and excessive protein in the urine are key features that help to distinguish normal from pre-eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia may need to be medically managed with hospitalization, oral or IV medications and close monitoring until the baby is sufficiently mature to be delivered. Ultimately it is delivery of the baby and placenta that is needed for proper treatment of pre-eclampsia. Prenatal care is extremely important because it reduces the risk of pregnancy related complications such as as pre-eclampsia, and aids in early diagnosis and treatment.