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Pre-Eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia, also known as Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH), is a serious pregnancy complication that usually comes on after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Signs and symptoms

During antenatal visits the doctor or midwife will check your blood pressure and monitor urine protein levels.  If there is cause for concern, the doctor may also order blood tests which can show if you have pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia can present as high blood pressure alone, but also may be accompanied by other conditions such as proteinuria (protein in the urine), oedema (excessive swelling) and/or convulsions.

Signs to watch out for include rapid weight gain, severe headache, blurred vision, and severe pain in the stomach under the ribs.  If you experience these symptoms, call your obstetrician right away.

Treatment

Treatment options include medications, dietary modifications, light exercise and activity along with sufficient rest.  In severe cases, your doctor may want your baby to be delivered early.  It is important to remember that hypertension during pregnancy is a serious condition and should be taken care of in order to prevent further complications.

What happens if pre-eclampsia is not treated?

If left untreated, this condition can cause serious problems for both the mother and the baby.  Pre-eclampsia can cause reduced blood flow to the placenta, placental abruption (premature detachment of the placenta from the uterus), premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, or foetal growth restriction.

Without treatment, pre-eclampsia can develop into life-threatening eclampsia (seizures), HELLP syndrome (a liver and blood-clotting disorder), kidney and brain problems, and stroke.

Risk factors

Whilst all pregnancies carry a risk of pre-eclampsia, there are some factors that increase the risk.  The risk of pre-eclampsia is higher in first pregnancies, multiple pregnancies, women with a family history or past history of pre-eclampsia, women with “advanced maternal age” (>35 years), and women with any of the following pre-existing conditions: diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, chronic hypertension, obesity, and others.

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