Have you ever heard of preeclampsia?

I chose this topic because recently I had several patients who were diagnosed with this syndrome and most of them had no idea of what this disease meant for them or for their unborn child.

Simply, Preeclampsia is a type of high blood pressure that affects pregnancy.  It is diagnosed when there is both an increase in the mother’s blood pressure and when a certain amount of protein is found in the urine.

We don’t know what causes preeclampsia and we have not found a way to prevent it.  But, we do know that certain women are more prone to developing this disorder. Here are some of the top risk factors: women having their first baby, those who have had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy and those with a family history of preeclampsia.  Some other really important risk factors include: women who are obese, those who were diagnosed with high blood pressure before they became pregnant (or who were diagnosed in the beginning of the pregnancy), women who have kidney disease, those carrying two or more babies and those who are genetically prone to develop blood clots.

Preclampsia can damage the placenta which in turn results in a baby who does not grow well in the uterus.  It can also cause low amniotic fluid levels.  More devastating is when the placenta pulls away from its attachment (abruptio placenta) leading to bleeding, the need for an emergency Caesarean section or worse, fetal death.  For the mother, the most serious outcomes are bleeding, liver damage, stroke and seizures.

If the baby is premature and the condition is mild, obstetricians can elect to monitor the baby and mother with weekly tests to insure the safety of both.  This management will allow more time so that the baby’s lungs will mature and at birth, the infant can breathe on its own without assistance.  Nevertheless, once there is evidence that the mother or baby is in danger, delivery–either by the vaginal route or by a Caesarean section–is the next step.  In this situation and if there is time, the mother may be given steroids to help strengthen the lungs of a premature baby before he/she is brought into the world.  During this brief period, medication to prevent seizures and to control blood pressure may be given to the mother.  Sometimes babies have to be delivered early in order to save their lives and that of the mother.

I bring this topic to you because many women forgo their prenatal appointments.  The only way to spot preeclampsia is by monitoring your blood pressure and urine each time you go to the doctor.  So make the time ladies (and dads-to-be), keep your appointments!

There it is, now spread the word!

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