Two of the more serious pregnancy complications that affect several women are preeclampsia and eclampsia. Since both these conditions can prove fatal, you should at least know what they are and if you are at risk of developing them.
What are Preeclampsia and Eclampsia?
In the simplest of terms, preeclampsia is hypertension or high blood pressure brought on by the pregnancy itself, accompanied by a high level of protein in urine. Another name for preeclampsia is toxemia because at one point doctors thought that the disease was caused by the presence of a toxin in the blood. Most women who are affected by preeclampsia are diagnosed with the condition toward the end of the pregnancy second trimester or the beginning of the pregnancy first trimester. However, preeclampsia can take hold earlier than this as well. Preeclampsia causes several pregnancy complications if left untreated.
About 3% of all pregnant women will suffer from preeclampsia. It is considered a very dangerous condition for both mother and child because of the complications that can arise from it. Preeclampsia accounts for about 20% of all pregnancy-related deaths.
Eclampsia is actually the severest form of preeclampsia. It is a very dangerous pregnancy complication, and the leading cause of death during pregnancy. In layman’s terms, eclampsia is the last phase of preeclampsia accompanied by seizures. Only one woman out of a hundred with preeclampsia will go on to develop eclampsia. Preeclampsia and eclampsia are usually talked about together since the former generally precedes the latter.
Pregnancy Complications of Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
Many women who have preeclampsia will deliver perfectly healthy babies with all ten fingers and toes and no medical problems. However, there is always a possibility of your preeclampsia getting worse, which can lead to the following pregnancy complications.
The main complication of preeclampsia is pre-term labor. Premature babies are at risk of several health issues like blindness, deafness, breathing problems and learning disabilities. If born too early, your baby may not have a very good chance of surviving.
Preeclampsia and eclampsia can cause stillbirth.
Women who have preeclampsia usually experience some high blood pressure after delivery for about six weeks, after which all symptoms of the condition disappear as if they had never been. In some cases though, a woman can develop high blood pressure even after this.
- The placenta may not get enough blood if you have preeclampsia. This can reduce the nutrition and oxygen that your baby gets, which could cause it to be born with low birth weight.
- Having preeclampsia can increase your risk of placental abruption. This is when the placenta detaches itself either completely or partially from the wall of the uterus. Placental abruption can cause heavy bleeding and is life-threatening for your baby and you.
- You could have a cerebral hemorrhage if you have preeclampsia.
- Having preeclampsia will increase your risk of developing eclampsia if precautions are not taken or if the preeclampsia is not managed.
- Eclampsia can cause damage to your vital organs permanently.
- Another complication of eclampsia is that it can cause you to go into a coma.
- You or your baby or both of you could die if you have eclampsia.
- Some studies suggest that having preeclampsia increases your risk of cardiovascular disease in the future.
- Preeclampsia can lead to the development of HELLP syndrome – a pregnancy complication characterized by a low platelet count, impaired liver function, and a breakdown of red blood cells.
Causes of Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
Some doctors feel that preeclampsia and eclampsia may occur when there is not enough blood flowing to the uterus or some blood vessels are damaged. Others hypothesize that it may just be genetic. But the truth is that no one knows for sure why preeclampsia and eclampsia happen. There is only speculation at this point.
Risk Factors of Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
If you have preeclampsia, you are automatically at risk for eclampsia. Following are the factors that seem to put women at higher risk of developing preeclampsia.
- If you had high blood pressure problems before you got pregnant, you are at an increases risk of getting preeclampsia.
- Even having diabetes or kidney disease is a significant risk factor for preeclampsia.
- For reasons unknown, women who are pregnant for the first time seem to be at higher risk for developing preeclampsia and thus eclampsia.
- The age of the mother is a significant risk factor. Teen moms and women above 40 are more likely to get preeclampsia than women in other age groups.
- Some women are genetically wired to develop preeclampsia. If your mother or sister had it, it is very likely that you will too.
- The longer the gap between your babies, the greater your risk for preeclampsia and eclampsia.
- You may be at greater risk of developing preeclampsia if you are carrying multiple foetuses.
- The higher your level of body fat, the higher your risk for preeclampsia.
- Poor nutrition may contribute to raising your risk for preeclampsia.
- You could be more prone to developing preeclampsia if you have an autoimmune disorder.
- Some women have low or normal blood pressure at the start of the pregnancy but it rises rapidly as the weeks progress, though not to a level to cause worry or indicate preeclampsia. But a steep incline in your blood pressure readings could mean that you are at higher risk for developing preeclampsia at some point during your pregnancy.
- Having preeclampsia in a prior pregnancy increases your risk for preeclampsia and eclampsia in your current one.
- Some studies have have shown a connection between urinary tract disease and a higher incidence of preeclampsia and eclampsia.
Symptoms of Preeclampsia
There are no typical symptoms for preeclampsia as it is an asymptomatic condition. However, there are some signs you should look out for that might indicate that you have preeclampsia. It is very important that you educate yourself about the symptoms of preeclampsia so that you can catch the condition early on and bring it under control, hopefully keeping eclampsia at bay.
- If you have preeclampsia, you face, hands or feet may swell up due to fluid retention.
- You may experience sudden weight gain that deviates from your normal pregnancy weight gain. For example, you may put on a couple of pounds in just one or two days. This is not normal and you should contact your doctor.
- As the preeclampsia gets worse, you could be plagued by headaches that just do not go away no matter what medication you take or how much sleep you get.
- Nausea or vomiting are other signs of preeclampsia you need to look out for. However, these are symptoms of other pregnancy complications as well.
- You may not urinate as much as has become normal during your pregnancy. Some women do not urinate at all.
- Another symptom of preeclampsia is pain in the abdomen, higher up near your ribcage. It can often be mistaken for heartburn, but the pain is quite severe so you will know something is wrong.
- You may see spots or experience temporary blurry vision if you have preeclampsia. You may also suddenly get very sensitive to light.
- A surefire symptom of preeclampsia is finding protein in the urine. It will show up during one of your normal prenatal tests.
- Some women with preeclampsia experience dizziness.
- A blood pressure that is higher than 140/90 mm/Hg is an indication of preeclampsia.
- Your doctor will advise a platelet count on your blood test if she suspects you have preeclampsia. A count less than 100,000 is another symptom of preeclampsia.
- Since preeclampsia affects your placenta, it can directly affect your baby too. If you feel less movement in your baby, it may be because the baby is starved for oxygen or nutrition due to the damage to the placenta. This is a pretty serious symptom of preeclampsia and you should inform your doctor immediately.
Symptoms of Eclampsia
If you develop eclampsia, there will not be time for you to think about the symptoms as they usually involve a seizure, stroke or going into a coma. Since preeclampsia is sometimes asymptomatic, it may only be diagnosed once these scary symptoms of eclampsia come to the fore.
Treatment for Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
There is no cure or treatment for preeclampsia and eclampsia. The only thing that can be done to save your life and your baby’s is to induce labor or opt for delivery via caesarean section. When you are diagnosed with preeclampsia, your doctor will conduct a variety of tests on you and your baby. If the baby seems to be in stable condition, your case of preeclampsia is not too bad, and it is too early to deliver, your doctor will recommend some extra care till you have reached 37 weeks, which is when the baby will be delivered. You will be advised to take the following precautions during the wait.
- Getting enough rest. Stress can exacerbate preeclampsia. Depending from person to person, the doctor may advise maximum bed rest so as to reduce blood pressure.
- Reduce salt intake and increase water intake. Also adapt a healthier diet if you have not done so already.
- Visiting the doctor more often so she can closely monitor both you and your baby and to ensure that your preeclampsia is not getting worse. About twice a week or once a week depending on the severity of your condition.
- You may be prescribed some blood pressure medication at your doctor’s discretion.
If the preeclampsia is worrisome but the baby is not ready to be delivered, you may be admitted to the hospital until the baby is ready to be born. This way, you have medical attention 24/7. You may be given injections to reduce your blood pressure and separate shots to accelerate the growth of your baby’s lungs so as to increase its chances of survival in case of premature birth.
If your preeclampsia is especially severe, the doctor’s priority will be to keep it from degenerating to eclampsia. You may be administered some magnesium sulfate – anticonvulsive medication – which will help to prevent seizures.
If the tests are highly discouraging or if you have eclampsia, there’s not going around it; the baby will have to be delivered immediately, regardless of whether or not it can survive once it is born. This is usually for the best because of the several health problems that preeclampsia and eclampsia can potentially cause. Your baby may not survive if it does remain in your womb when you have preeclampsia or eclampsia.
Prevention of Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
Nothing can be done to prevent preeclampsia and eclampsia. You can only make sure that you are not at high risk by taking into consideration the several risk factors mentioned before and changing those that are under your control.
Recent research suggests that taking vitamin D may reduce your risk of preeclampsia. However, consult with your doctor before taking any kind of supplements or medication.
Also stick to all your doctor’s appointments. Timely, quality pre-natal care can at least help to diagnose preeclampsia and eclampsia at the earliest, thus giving you a better chance of fighting it.