Every year in the UK, almost 70,000 women and their families are affected by pre-eclampsia. It is a peculiar illness which only occurs during pregnancy. It’s peculiar because a woman can have it but feel quite well, the signs of it can appear incredibly quickly, there is no way of preventing it and no one knows for certain what causes it. Pre-eclampsia can be a dangerous,even life-threatening condition to both mother and baby but one of the key symptoms can be detected, very simply, with a urine test.
What are the signs?
The main indications that you may have pre-eclampsia are raised blood pressure and protein in your urine. This is the reason why your blood pressure and urine are checked at your antenatal appointments. So, it is vital that you attend all your antenatal appointments.
However, you can have either of these symptoms on its own without necessarily meaning that you have, or are going to get, pre-eclampsia.
Another sign is swelling in your feet, hands and face, especially if it comes up suddenly. However, some swelling is perfectly normal in pregnancy and again on its own isn’t necessarily a symptom of pre-eclampsia.
In the early stages of the illness, women usually feel quite well. In the more advanced stages they may suffer severe headaches, flashing lights or spots before the eyes, sickness and pain in the upper part of the abdomen. It’s possible that these symptoms may have other causes, which aren’t dangerous, but as they could indicate serious pre-eclampsia, which needs urgent medical attention, you should contact your doctor immediately if you notice any of them
What are the risks?
Pre-eclampsia can cause problems both for the baby and the mother. With pre-eclampsia the placenta doesn’t work properly, and this limits the baby’s supply of food and oxygen, so that it doesn’t grow as it should. The mother can be affected in various ways. As the illness advances, it’s possible for her kidneys, liver, lungs, brain and blood clotting system all to be affected. At its most serious, it can develop into full eclampsia with fits, coma and even death, though this is very rare.
What’s the treatment?
If you’re found to have both high blood pressure and protein in your urine, you’ll be asked to go into hospital, so that you can be monitored closely. You may also be given drugs to lower your blood pressure. If you have just one of these signs, there may not be any need for you to go into hospital, but your doctor or midwife may want to see you more frequently to check whether your blood pressure or urine is changing.
Once pre-eclampsia has developed, the only failsafe way of curing it is for the baby to be born, either by inducing labour or by Caesarean. In a few rare cases where the mother develops pre-eclampsia early on in the pregnancy, and becomes very unwell, the baby may have to be delivered prematurely.
Will I get it again?
The majority of women who’ve had pre-eclampsia once have normal subsequent pregnancies, although there is a slight risk of it recurring. If you’ve had it twice, the risk of
getting it again is quite high.