Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs in pregnancy and can have complications that impact the health of both mother and baby. May is preeclampsia awareness month, so we sat down with Dr. Ashleigh Denny of Cherry Hill OB/GYN to share the symptoms, side effects, and answers to common questions about preeclampsia.
A: Preeclampsia is the new development of high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy, usually in the third trimester. It is relatively common, affecting somewhere between 3-4% of pregnancies, which doesn’t initially sound like a lot, but the numbers add up when you consider the amount of pregnancies we have worldwide.
A: Common symptoms to look for include persistent, severe headaches, vision changes, abdominal pain, shortness of breath and lasting swelling in the legs, face and hands.
A: The only true “cure” to is delivering the baby. If a woman’s pregnancy is full term (past 37 weeks), the treatment for preeclampsia would be to deliver the baby (via induction of labor, or cesarean section if otherwise indicated). If a woman’s pregnancy is pre-term, treating preeclampsia becomes a balance of optimizing the health of the mother and the baby, as preterm delivery comes with risks for the baby. This is where treatment of preeclampsia becomes a bit more nuanced, and is determined by several factors such as the gestational age of the pregnancy, the severity of the preeclampsia and overall clinical condition of the pregnant woman. Some of the treatments that may be used in this more complicated situation include using medications to control blood pressure, medications to help prevent seizures, and steroids to help mature the baby’s lungs in anticipation of preterm delivery.
A: Preeclampsia absolutely affects the health of the baby. First and foremost, preeclampsia affects the health of the pregnant woman, and we need a healthy mom to have a healthy baby. Second, preeclampsia can interfere with the blood flow through the placenta, which can directly cause issues with the baby’s blood supply and growth. This is why we closely monitor patients with preeclampsia.
A: In some cases, symptoms of preeclampsia can linger for up to 6 weeks postpartum; however, since the “cure” for preeclampsia is delivery, it does usually go away after the baby is born.
A: Having preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy does not necessarily mean you will have it again in future pregnancies; however, it does put you at higher risk. If a woman has preeclampsia, her chance of having it again in future pregnancies is eight-fold.
A: There are several pre-existing medical conditions that put a woman at higher risk of developing preeclampsia such as diabetes, chronic hypertension, lupus, obesity or chronic kidney disease.
A: Women with preeclampsia are at risk of developing hypertension, cardiovascular disease or renal disease later in life. This is not likely to be caused by the preeclampsia itself, but preeclampsia is more of a warning sign of an underlying predisposition to develop these health conditions.
A: There are certain populations that have been observed to have higher rates of preeclampsia, which are:
Unfortunately, there is not enough reliable data to suggest why exactly these specific groups of women are at higher risk, but they have been observed to develop the condition more often.
A: The best thing to do to prevent preeclampsia is to start each pregnancy as healthy as possible. Some ways to do so are by having a regular exercise regimen, eating healthy, obtaining a normal weight prior to pregnancy, keeping up with preexisting medical conditions, and taking care of your overall well being. If you have had preeclampsia in a prior pregnancy, your doctor will likely recommend that you should take baby aspirin in subsequent pregnancies, as this can reduce the rate of recurrence.
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