Preeclampsia is a condition characterized by sudden increase in blood pressure, excessive swelling in the hands and face, and protein in the urine during pregnancy. It occurs in the late stages of pregnancy, usually after the 20th week. It is also known as pregnancy induced hypertension or toxemia.
The reasons behind preeclampsia are still being debated. However, there are multiple theories that have been put forward. Some believe that preeclampsia is hereditary, that is, if your mother or sister had it during her pregnancy, there are higher chances that you will have it too. It has also been linked to periodontal diseases and gum problems.
The pathogens causing these gum problems are believed to cross the placenta and cause the condition. It is still not known with certainty if gum disease is simply associated with preeclampsia, or actually causes it. Blood vessel defects are also regarded as another possible cause. The fact that preeclampsia patients have a higher chance of developing high blood pressure problems at later stages in life, supports this theory.
Lastly, it has been postulated that an immune response generated by the mother’s body against the fetal proteins is responsible for causing damage to the blood vessels, and this may cause the preeclampsia-like condition. Preeclampsia if not treated in time, can progress to more severe eclampsia, in which the expecting mother can experience seizures.
This can be risky, as seizures can cause loss of balance and control, causing trauma or injury to the woman or fetus. Also it has been shown that women who have had preeclampsia during their pregnancy, are at a higher risk of delivering premature babies or having restricted fetal intrauterine growth. Around 8% of women experience preeclampsia during pregnancy.
If detected early, a lot of complications can be prevented by intervention. The signs and symptoms associated with the condition include swelling of the hands and face, sudden onset high blood pressure, swelling of ankles which does not subside even after 24 hours of bed rest, headaches, lower abdominal pressure, blurring of vision and sometimes even abnormal kidney function leading to scanty urine output.
Watch for any of these conditions during your pregnancy, and immediately inform your doctor in case you do experience any of these. The best treatment once you have been diagnosed with preeclampsia is taking use adequate bed rest and avoiding any mental stress which may cause a shoot up in the blood pressure.
In some women, when the condition cannot be controlled, the treatment is more aggressive and requires that the delivery should be done within 3 days. This however is possible only when the required fetal development is satisfactory. Though some studies have shown that it is possible to perform a C-section at an early stage by giving certain medications which accelerate the lung development, many authors are completely against this view.
Fortunately, in most of the cases, within days of the deliver, preeclampsia subsides, and the blood pressure levels do return to normal. If emergency delivery cannot be done, magnesium sulfate injections are given to the mother, as these have shown to almost always control the worsening of the condition.
The use of antihypertensive medications in pregnancy has to be weighed against the possible side effects of using these drugs. Maintaining a proper diet, with proper minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants, with maintenance of oral hygiene, may help in preventing preeclampsia.