Pre-eclampsia (which means “before eclampsia”) in its broadest form and including gestational hypertension affects as many as one in 10 of all pregnancies, making it the most common of the serious antenatal complications. Most cases are mild, although unmanaged pre-eclampsia can develop into a more serious condition called Eclampsia. It’s important that the condition is diagnosed and monitored to prevent serious complications for mother and baby.

WHAT IS IT?

Pre-eclampsia causes hypertension (raised blood pressure) and proteinuria (the presence of protein in your urine) – your midwife will routinely check both of these things at antenatal appointments. As mild forms of the condition don’t always display symptoms this is how most cases of pre-eclampsia are discovered. It typically occurs after 20 weeks.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

Women with more severe pre-eclampsia may display symptoms so it’s important to be aware of them and speak to a midwife if you have any concerns. Things to look out for are:

– Persistent headaches which aren’t helped by taking paracetamol.
– Visual disturbances such as seeing flashes or blurred vision.
– Swelling of the hands, feet or face (called Oedema)
– Feeling generally really unwell.
– Pain just below the ribs.

CAUSES OF PRE-ECLAMPSIA

The exact cause of pre-eclampsia isn’t known, although research suggests that the placenta is a factor in developing the condition and that genetics also play their part.

In terms of genetics, those with a family history of pre-eclampsia are more likely to suffer from it, as are those who have already had the condition in a previous pregnancy. This indicates that some women are more vulnerable to developing the condition due to genetics. Due to this, it’s important to tell your midwife if you know of anyone in your immediate family who has had the condition.

The placenta is thought to have some involvement too, it’s believed that the development of the blood vessels of the placenta is incomplete in women who develop the condition.

WHO IS AFFECTED?

You are considered higher-risk of developing pre-eclampsia if:

  • if it is your first pregnancy or first pregnancy with a new partner
  • if you developed the condition during a previous pregnancy
  • if you have a family history of the condition
  • if you are over 40 years old
  • if you have a medical condition such as diabetes, kidney problems or high-blood pressure
  • if you are expecting multiple babies (twins or triplets)

If you are thought to be at a high risk of developing pre-eclampsia, you may be advised to take a daily dose of asprin from the 12th week of pregnancy until your baby is delivered.

TREATMENT

If you are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, you should be referred for an assessment by a specialist. This will usually be in a hospital where you will be monitored closely to determine how severe the condition is and whether a hospital stay is needed.

The only way to cure pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby, so you will usually be monitored regularly until it is possible for your baby to be delivered. This will normally be at around 37-38 weeks of pregnancy, but it may be earlier in more severe cases.

Medication may be recommended to lower your blood pressure while you wait for your baby to be delivered.

Monitoring your baby’s movements is essential; if a change in regular movements occurs it is essential to be checked.

EXTRA INFORMATION

Created by Researchers at the University of Oxford the new "Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy" section on the Healthtalk website aims to improve the care women and their babies receive. The website answers common questions by providing access to real-life experiences of others who have faced pre-eclampsia, including how it affected them. It's a really worthwhile visit for professionals, researchers and women with pre-eclampsia alike.

http://healthtalk.org/pre-eclampsia