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Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is characterized by the development of high blood pressure during pregnancy. To meet the diagnostic criteria for preeclampsia as opposed to pregnancy-induced hypertension, an expectant mother’s blood pressure must measure at least 140 diastolic and 90 systolic (140/90) at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Additionally, protein measurements of greater than 1+ or 300 mg per 24 hours must be present in urine samples. The presence of protein in a pregnant woman’s urine is indicative of the negative effects of high blood pressure on her organs.

The cause of preeclampsia is unknown and the condition occurs in a small number of pregnancies, however several factors have been found to increase the risk of preeclampsia development. Risk factors include, but are not limited to: a first-time pregnancy, family history of preeclampsia, a preexisting history of chronic hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, advanced maternal age (AMA), a twin pregnancy, and maternal obesity.

Symptoms of preeclampsia may include persistent headaches, blurred or other changes in vision, upper abdominal pain, decreased urine output, low blood platelet level, impaired liver function, edema, sudden weight gain, and shortness of breath.  Because some of preeclampsia’s symptoms mimic migraines and are similar to common pregnancy side effects, regular prenatal visits and urinary laboratory testing are necessary to screen for preeclampsia.

Complications from preeclampsia can result in both maternal and fetal injury, and in severe cases, death. Pregnant women with preeclampsia are at risk for seizures and the development of eclampsia (coma), stroke, severe bleeding, heart attack, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and placental abruption.

High blood pressure can also affect blood flow to the placenta, resulting in reduced oxygen to the fetus.  As a result, the fetus is at risk for inhibited growth and preterm delivery. Due to incomplete development and low birth weight, preterm infants are subject to additional complications at birth including but not limited to respiratory difficulties, brain hemorrhages, gastrointestinal vulnerabilities, compromised immune systems, and blood and metabolism problems. Preterm infants can also be subject to life-long problems such as cerebral palsy, impaired development and vision, and a number of chronic health issues.

The only assured treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby and placenta.  However, mild preeclampsia may be managed with at-home care and close physician monitoring.  At home, the mother will have to monitor fetal movement daily, and also her own blood pressure. This type of management requires more frequent prenatal visits and testing to ensure that the disorder does not escalate to severe preeclampsia. Testing will include frequent blood tests, ultrasounds, and nonstress tests.

In the event of severe preeclampsia indicated by significantly elevated blood pressure and considerably high protein levels in the urine, the mother will require hospitalization. A physician will induce labor if the fetus is of sufficient gestational age, followed by medications typically administered by injection to help the baby’s lungs mature. To prevent seizures and to lower blood pressure, the mother may be given medications intravenously such as magnesium sulfate. After delivery of the baby and placenta, preeclampsia symptoms typically resolve. However, it may take a full six weeks for the mother’s blood pressure and laboratory values to return to normal, so it is very important to attend physician appointments after delivery.

If you experienced preeclampsia during your pregnancy and your child has suffered as a result, please contact us at 877-262-9767.

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