Spring Letter 2013
Recently, I took care of a lovely, young woman who had developed preeclampsia late in pregnancy. Understandably, my patient was upset – and confused. Though she had high blood pressure and protein in her urine, she felt fine. Until now, her pregnancy had been easy, and she had no idea what preeclampsia meant. She was about to get a crash course.
Preeclampsia is a potentially fatal disorder that occurs late in pregnancy or soon after birth. It causes blood pressure to spike and protein to build up in the urine. Symptoms such as swelling in the feet, hands and face or nausea are sometimes dismissed as normal symptoms of pregnancy. Other dangerous signs include a headache that won’t go away, pain in the abdomen, a racing pulse, vision changes or rapid weight gain. Sometimes, as in my patient’s case, women don’t feel sick at all.
Preeclampsia can strike without warning and can be deadly to both mother and baby. In fact, it’s a leading cause of maternal death and premature birth in this country. There’s no way to prevent it, but, if detected early, preeclampsia usually can be successfully managed. All of these make the case for early prenatal care and keeping regular appointments throughout pregnancy.
Any pregnant woman can be affected by preeclampsia; however, the risk increases with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney problems. Women who are obese, expecting multiples or pregnant for the first time have an increased risk – as do young mothers (teens) and those over the age of 40.
Fortunately, if preeclampsia is detected early and isn’t severe, it usually can be treated with bed rest, frequent monitoring and, sometimes, medications. In these situations, mothers usually are able to “buy time” and deliver their babies at term without complications. If preeclampsia is severe, the only treatment is to deliver the baby prematurely.
I didn’t see my preeclampsia patient again, but her case left an impression on me. She, like many women, was unaware and didn’t know the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia. I hope this letter encourages you to learn more about the disorder and talk to an obstetrician or midwife if you are thinking about starting a family. During pregnancy, keep all your appointments and follow your instincts. Discuss the warning signs with your partner or other loved ones so that they are informed.
If you feel something is wrong, don’t hesitate to question – and question again. Being your own strong advocate can be lifesaving for both you and your baby. For more information, visit preeclampsia.org.
Linda Ciampa, RN
Source: The Preeclampsia Foundation