Mother and Baby



Pre-eclampsia sometimes appears without symptoms, but there are ways of working out if you have this condition which can cause problems for you and your unborn baby

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that sometimes strikes during the second half of pregnancy (from around 20 weeks) or immediately after giving birth. It is thought to relate to a problem with the placenta.

‘Pre-eclampsia can cause a combination of high blood pressure (hypertension) and protein in your urine (proteinuria),’ says Shreelata Datta, an obstetrician at St Helier Hospital in Surrey. 

What are the causes of pre-eclampsia?

The exact causes are not fully understoon, but the condition is thought to be caused by the placenta not developing properly due to a problem with the blood vessels supplying it. 

Risk factors include being a first-time mother over 40, being overweight, having a family history of pre-eclampsia or being pregnant with twins.

What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia?

There are often no symptoms with pre-eclampsia unless it’s severe, other than heightened blood pressure.

‘If it is severe, symptoms include bad headaches that aren’t eased with paracetamol, problems with your vision, such as blurring or flashing lights before your eyes, severe pain just below the ribs, heartburn that doesn’t go away with antacids, rapidly increasing swelling of the face, hands or feet or generally feeling very unwell,’ says Shreelata.

How is pre-eclampsia diagnosed?

To find out whether have pre-eclampsia, your GP will take your blood pressure. If it is high, the next step would be looking for protein in your urine. You might then have further urine tests, or be referred to hospital for monitoring. 

How is pre-eclampsia treated?

The only cure for pre-eclampisa is to give birth to your baby. Your GP might prescrive you certain medication for high blood pressure. 

What can you do?

It is especially important to attend all antenatal appointments if you think you may be suffering from pre-eclampsia.

‘It may be picked up at your routine antenatal appointments when you have your blood pressure checked and urine tested,’ says Shreelata. ‘This is why it is always important to bring a urine sample to your midwife appointments.’

You’ll need to be extra vigilant about pre-eclampsia if you had high blood pressure in a previous pregnancy or if you have a medical condition such as diabetes or lupus.

See your GP…

‘If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms associated with severe pre-eclampsia you should seek medical help immediately,’ says Shreelata.

If in doubt, contact the maternity unit at your local hospital.

What is HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrom is a severe form of preeclamsia. This rare condition is a blood clotting disorder, meaning that the liver may be significantly injured.

How does preeclampsia affect the baby?

The consequences for your baby may vary widely from being just a day under close observation, to having lifelong disabilities. However,

Complications can occur if your baby is delivered early to relieve your symptoms of pre-eclampsia. Most cases of pre-eclampsia pass with no affect to baby.

Can preeclampsia occur after the baby is born?

Yes, although it rarely does. Symptoms are the same as for pre-eclampsia, but may be more intense. It usually occurs within the first 72 hours after giving birth, but in rare cases can develop at any time during the first six weeks after birth. Seek medical help as soon as you notice any of the symptoms.

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