Will I get preeclampsia?

An experience of preeclampsia

By (and with) Alexandra Smith

What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a potentially life-threatening illness that happens to about one in a hundred women when they're pregnant or after they give birth. It normally occurs in the later stages of pregnancy and can stop the placenta working properly so the baby is at risk as well as the Mum. Midwives look out for it and worry when a patient has very high blood pressure or protein in their urine; which why they're always checking those two things at appointments.

Did you expect to get preeclampsia?
Safe and sound.
Yes. My consultant said it wasn't hereditary but every woman on the maternal side of my family had problems with preeclampsia or high bp in their first pregnancies so I did think it likely. At the time I had it, the medical profession thought preeclampsia was caused by the mother's body rejecting the father's genes in the placenta. I don't know if that's true but I didn't get preeclampsia in my second pregnancy so I guess my body recognised the genes the second time around.

How can you prevent preeclampsia?
No one knows how to prevent it. General good health is advised, for example: not eating salty foods, trying to stay relaxed, walking or light exercise every day, eating regularly and making sure you take all the recommended pregnancy vitamins. These are tips to keep blood pressure low really. They won't prevent preeclampsia but they may help you and your baby cope better if you do get it.

How can you cure preeclampsia?
Currently, the only known cure it is to take the placenta away. This obviously means birthing the baby; so specialists have to weigh-up the risks of an early birth for the baby against how much the preeclampsia is affecting the mother. In my case, I was lucky that the hypertension didn't get really bad until week 28 so my baby was fully developed already (as preeclampsia can sometimes affect the baby's development). Unfortunately, even once the placenta is expelled, the pregnancy hormones still linger so preeclampsia or high bp can persist or appear over the first few weeks following the birth.

What should people look out for if they are worried about preeclampsia?
For me, the blood pressure (also known as pregnancy induced hypertension) was the main signal something was wrong. It went up in the third trimester. I became very anxious and stressed which are signs of high blood pressure; it really affects your mood and makes you tense. If you get visual disturbances then you should go to hospital. Around Week 30 I was rushing for a tube train home from work and I suddenly couldn't see. I started my maternity leave after that as I was told at my next appointment that loss of sight is a sign your blood pressure is so high that you may have a seizure or a stroke. Anything above 140 over 90 is officially high blood pressure but doctors really seemed to panic when my blood pressure was above 150 over 100 and it went much higher than this.

What advice would you give to someone who has pregnancy induced hypertension?
Make sure you are assigned a consultant doctor and ask for regular midwife appointments to check for protein or very high BP. I had weekly appointments in the third trimester and was taken for monitoring every time because my blood pressure was too high. I'd be sent home after hours and hours once it 'stabilised.' I felt like a prisoner because there was nothing to eat on the ward and I couldn't go home when I wanted to so be prepared to spend a lot of time in hospital before and after you have your baby. I was only given medication for high bp after the birth and I never really understood why I wasn't given some earlier so make sure you ask. You may also want to buy a blood pressure monitor. I was also told not to get one in case it made me worry more but I had to in the end as my bp stayed high for four weeks after my daughter was born and I could only leave hospital under the condition that I monitor the medication from home (so I knew when to stop taking it).

Does it spoil your pregnancy and birth?
It depends on your outlook. I came out alive and my child is healthy so I should be grateful but, after a failed induction of labour at around 39 weeks, the consultants decided to perform an emergency Cesarean Section. This was because of my hypertension of course but in surgery it turned out that my daughter's cord was wound tightly around her neck and she had excreted (which is a sign of distress) so really the C-Section saved her life. Only now do I realise we were both really ill and I wish I'd taken the 'too posh to push' jokes with a pinch of salt because, having had a relatively 'normal' labour since, I know a Caesarean Section is not an easy option.

Have you had preeclampsia?  What was your experience?

© This article and its photo(s) are the property of Alexandra Smith. Only use or reproduce with permission.

Disclaimer: These tips are created from lessons I have learnt during my own experience.  With regard to the content and advice on this blog, Alexandra Smith makes no representations or warranties about its accuracy, reliability or suitability for anyone. Any reliance you place on the blog or its content is at your own discretion and in no event will Alexandra be liable for any loss, damage or injury in connection with your use.

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