PREECLAMPSIA IS A POTENTIALLY LIFE THREATENING CONDITION THAT DEVELOPS IN 3 TO 4 PERCENT OF PREGNANCIES IN THE UNITED STATES.
How is preeclampsia diagnosed?
It involves developing high blood pressure (hypertension) and also, typically, protein in the urine (proteinuria) at some point after the 20th week of pregnancy. Preeclampsia is sometimes called pregnancy-induced hypertension or toxemia. Scientists do not know exactly why some women develop preeclampsia while others do not.
Severe preeclampsia increases a mother’s risk of severe, life threatening seizures (eclampsia) and stroke. HELLP syndrome can also develop, which can cause multi-organ failure if left untreated. Preeclampsia also poses risks a fetus, including placental damage, slower growth, decreased amniotic fluid (oligohydramnios), and decreased blood flow through the umbilical cord, which can be observed during an ultrasound exam. These effects increase the risk of fetal brain injury.
What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?
Symptoms of severe preeclampsia include persistent severe headache, visual problems, new shortness of breath, and heartburn-like pain, accompanied by severe hypertension and abnormal kidney, platelet, or liver tests. These symptoms are caused by decreased blood flow to major organs like the kidney, brain, and liver, which is linked due to abnormal development of the placenta early in pregnancy. Mild preeclampsia typically involves mildly elevated blood pressure and proteinuria. Many women with preeclampsia do not experience any symptoms, which makes blood pressure checks during the last half of pregnancy very important.
How is preeclampsia treated?
Physicians’ groups have developed recommendations for treating patients at risk of developing preeclampsia—including those with chronic hypertension, diabetes, or multiple fetuses—with low-dose aspirin starting early in pregnancy. Bedrest and medication are sometimes prescribed.
The only cure for preeclampsia, however, is delivery of the baby and placenta. For this reason, mothers who have reached term (37 weeks or more) are typically induced or have a C-section. Delivery might be postponed in mothers who have not reached term, to allow the baby more time to develop. The mother and fetus should be closely monitored, either in the hospital or at home with frequent office visits. Monitoring typically takes the form of frequent blood pressure measurements and blood tests to check liver, kidney function, and platelet counts.
Mistakes can happen
During labor, most mothers with preeclampsia are treated with IV magnesium sulfate or another anticonvulsant, to prevent seizures. They may also take an IV blood pressure medication to prevent stroke. High blood pressure and proteinuria typically resolve within a few days after delivery, but some women need continued treatment.
If you believe you or a loved one were injured as a result of untreated or improperly treated preeclampsia, contact us today.
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