What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that causes high blood pressure in women, usually from the 20th week of their pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia?

Normally, a pregnant woman with pre-eclampsia may not initially feel ill, but will show signs such as:

If the pre-eclampsia is severe, the following symptoms may be present:

  • headaches that do not go away
  • abdominal pain on the right side, below the ribs
  • breathing difficulties
  • nausea and vomiting
  • urinating infrequently
  • temporary loss of vision, points or flashing lights, blurred vision or sensitivity to light

What are the causes of pre-eclampsia?

The exact cause is not known, but it may be related to the following factors:

Can pre-eclampsia be prevented?

There are no proven strategies for preventing pre-elampsia. However, it is thought that taking aspirin in low doses, calcium supplements and products with vitamins E and C helps to reduce your risk. If you suspect you might have pre-eclampsia you should see your doctor to ensure you are monitored properly and any complications if they occur are managed.

How is pre-eclampsia diagnosed?

A diagnosis of pre-eclampsia is made on your blood pressure levels and the presence of at least one other symptom (listed above). You may be referred for tests such as blood tests or urine tests to gather the necessary information.

What is the treatment for pre-eclampsia?

The only current “cure” for pre-eclampsia is delivery, through an induced pregnancy or ceasarean.

In order to avoid a delivery too early, your doctor will consult with you about how the condition can be managed temporarily. In the case of mild preeclampsia, you may only need medication to lower your blood pressure. In more severe cases, corticosteroids may be offered to improve your liver and platelet function, as well as anticonvulsant medication to prevent seizure. In the most severe cases, you may need to stay in hospital to receive regular monitoring of your own health and the health of your baby.

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