When you’re pregnant, you can get a condition that makes you blood pressure too high, even if it had been normal before. It's called preeclampsia, and it can keep your liver, kidneys, and other organs from working the way they should. Without treatment, it can lead to a more serious condition called eclampsia. In rare cases, eclampsia can be deadly for you and your baby.
Delivery is the cure for preeclampsia. But it can be managed if your doctor catches it early. That's one reason it’s important to get regular checkups throughout your pregnancy and even after delivery. Most women with preeclampsia or eclampsia have healthy babies.
Common signs of preeclampsia include:
- Swelling in face or hands
- Very bad headache or one that won’t go away
- Spots or other changes in vision
- Sudden weight gain
- Pain in the upper part of the stomach or the shoulder
- Confusion or changes in mental state
- Trouble breathing
- Nausea or vomiting during the second half of your pregnancy
If you have a severe headache, feel short of breath, or think you might have preeclampsia, call your doctor right away.
At every scheduled visit during your pregnancy, your doctor will check your blood pressure and check your urine for protein. You have preeclampsia if after 20 weeks of pregnancy your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90 and you meet one of these two conditions:
- You also have protein in your urine, a sign that your kidneys may not be fully filtering waste from your body. This is called proteinuria.
- You have one or more of the following:
If your preeclampsia leads to seizures, you have eclampsia.
Your doctor may run different tests to check your preeclampsia and your and your baby’s health. They include:
- Blood test. This test checks your liver and kidney function and measures your blood platelet count.
- Creatinine clearance test. Creatinine is a body waste. Normally, the kidneys flush it out of your blood through your pee. You have more creatinine when you’re pregnant. But preeclampsia can make your kidneys not work as well.
- Urinalysis. This measures the protein levels in your pee.
- Fetal ultrasound. This imaging test shows how your baby is growing, estimates her weight, and measures the amount of cushioning fluid around her.
- Nonstress test. This checks your baby’s heart rate.
- Biophysical profile. This combines the ultrasound and a nonstress test to check your baby’s breathing, muscle tone, and more.
Treatment depends on how serious your preeclampsia is and how far along you are in your pregnancy.
If you’re 37 weeks or more pregnant, your doctor probably will suggest you deliver your baby. But if it’s earlier in your pregnancy, she will treat your mild preeclampsia to give your baby more time in the womb; however if your preeclampsia is severe, delivery is the ultimate treatment.
If you have mild preeclampsia, you’ll have checkups more often -- once or twice a week. You’ll also have more tests. Your doctor may ask you to check your blood pressure at home.
Your doctor may prescribe medications. These may include:
- Medicine to control your blood pressure
- Corticosteroids to help make your liver work better and to boost your platelet levels. You may also get this medication to help your baby’s lungs grow faster in case you need to deliver her early.
- An anti-seizure drug called magnesium sulfate that's given in the hospital just before you deliver and for 24 hours after your baby’s birth.
If your preeclampsia is serious, your doctor may keep you in the hospital to keep a closer watch on you and your baby. If your condition gets worse, it may be best to have your baby even if it’s early.
Women with preeclampsia can be induced and have a vaginal birth. This may be better than a cesarean-section because it’s less stressful on the body than surgery. Your doctor will do a C-section if you need to deliver your baby right away. You may get magnesium sulfate during delivery to help prevent seizures. Although delivering your baby usually helps the condition go away, it can persist to up to six weeks after you have your baby.