Preclampsia Risk: Watch Your Blood Pressure!

July 16, 2008

Preclampsia - What Is It?

The root word of preclampsia is a Latin term, "Eclampsia", which means seizures or fits.  When a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and it is left untreated, it can lead to seizures, hence the term, preclampsia.   While under normal conditions blood pressure tends to drop during pregnancy, the opposite happens when preclampsia is present.  However, high blood pressure by itself is not necessarily an indicator for preclampsia.  Several other indicators are necessary for a diagnosis including pain in the liver, protein in urine, headaches, abnormalities in the blood and an undersized baby for the gestational period.   Gestational hypertension, or high blood pressure during pregnancy does present some risk of complications and should be addressed, however the effects are not as severe as preclampsia.

Preclampsia is defined in the webmed dictionary as: A condition in pregnancy characterized by abrupt hypertension (a sharp rise in blood pressure), albuminuria (leakage of large amounts of the protein albumin into the urine) and edema (swelling) of the hands, feet, and face.  Preclampsia is the most common complication of pregnancy.  It affects about 5% of pregnancies.  It occurs in the third trimester (the last third) of pregnancy.

Who's At Risk For Preclampsia?

At present there are no screening tests for preclampsia, but researchers are working hard to develop a test which will be effective and uncomplicated.  While there is no screening available yet, there are precursors and situations which signal the possibility of a woman developing preclampsia so it is important to ensure proper medical care throughout the pregnancy.  Some considerations are age - a woman either at the top end of the age range (35 years) or at the other end (teen), a first-time pregnancy, conception through fertility treatment , multiples (twins or more) and barrier types of contraception (condoms).  Preexisting medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus and any type of kidney disease also create added risk.

What Are The Effects of Preclampsia?

Preclampsia is a very dangerous medical condition which can have serious effects, including early delivery and extended hospital stays.  With proper medical care preclampsia can be managed quite well. However, it may become necessary to keep a woman hospitalized for observation after birth to provide care in the event of possible stroke, bleeding, seizures, liver problems or spiking blood pressure.  In some cases, the baby is stillborn as a result of preclampsia.  Symptoms which escalate during the course of the pregnancy likely indicate an early delivery for the safety of both mother and baby.

Frequent prenatal visits help the doctor assess how the baby is growing and developing and whether a vaginal delivery is realistic.  Along with this information, the doctor will be checking blood pressure and urine to determine if preclampsia is present.  If blood pressure begins rising, a medication may be given to lower it.  However, if signs of preclampsia are present, then hospitalization may be required to monitor the situation and treat it as best possible.

 

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