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Pregnancy-induced Hypertension AKA Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a condition that may occur during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, when a woman is having a baby for the first time or the first time with a new partner. This condition can be hard to detect, and can lead to serious complications for the mother or her baby.

If you are pregnant it is important to know the warning signs of preeclampsia. Unfortunately, women are frequently not aware of which symptoms can be signs of potential danger. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, these symptoms, many of which may be mistaken for normal pregnancy aches and pains, are what to look out for:

  • No symptoms. Some women have elevated blood pressure but have no clues to know it is present. You can’t usually feel that your blood pressure is up.
  • High blood pressure.  It’s usually 140/90 or greater, and can be an early indicator that preeclampsia is developing.
  • Protein in your urine. In preeclampsia your kidneys don’t work properly and protein normally protected by the kidneys leaks out into urine.
  • Swelling. Some swelling in pregnancy is normal, but when you notice that your swelling is excessive, such as around your face or your hands, this can be a sign of trouble.
  • Sudden weight gain. Weight gain of several pounds in just a few days can indicate that your blood vessels are allowing extra fluid to leak into your body’s tissues. Sometimes having extra salt in your diet makes this worse. Drinking more water can make it better.
  • Nausea or vomiting. This is significant when it comes on quickly, especially in the last 3 months of pregnancy. Most “morning sickness” goes away after the first trimester of pregnancy.
  • Abdominal or shoulder pain. This pain is usually found in your upper right quadrant of the abdomen where the liver is located.  It can be a sign of the HELLP syndrome, which is a severe form of preeclampsia with anemia, damage to the liver, and increased bleeding. Sometimes the pain can be felt in your back.
  • Headaches.  Dull or severe, throbbing headaches that don’t go away can be due to high blood pressure.
  • Change in vision.  Vision changes are among the most serious signs of preeclampsia. There can be blurred or double vision, flashing lights or spots. This indicates danger to you and your baby. If you have this, you should seek medical care right away.
  • Hyperreflexia, racing pulse, mental confusion, anxiety, shortness of breath, sense of impending doom. These symptoms may indicate a worsening of preeclampsia and that delivery may be needed soon, even if the baby is premature.

Sometimes preeclampsia may get worse in the 1-2 weeks after delivery. While we often hear that birth is the cure for preeclampsia, in some cases the symptoms may get worse when the patient is at home with her new baby. She may have headaches, swelling, and other changes that show her blood pressure has become worse instead of better. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms after you have delivered, you must contact your physician about it so that your status can be evaluated and appropriate treatment can be given.

Prenatal care at our practice always includes watching closely for this potentially deadly condition. Talk to your doctor at your next appointment if you have any questions or concerns about preeclampsia or any other pregnancy-related conditions.