Preeclampsia, also known as Toxemia or Pregnancy-induced Hypertension (PIH), is a condition affecting women in the late part of the second trimester or in the third trimester of a pregnancy, i.e. after the 20th week of pregnancy. The condition is characterized by large amounts of protein found in the urine, as well as very high blood pressure. While the cause of the condition has not yet been clearly established, it has been hypothesized that factors such as diet, autoimmune disorders, blood vessel problems and genetics may be the most likely reasons why women get preeclampsia. Possible risk factors include obesity, being older than 35, previous personal history of preeclampsia, family history of preeclampsia, multiple pregnancy (carrying more than one fetus at a time), first pregnancy, as well as a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and kidney disease.
The most common symptoms of preeclampsia are the aforementioned presence of protein in the urine and hypertension, as well as swelling of the hands and face/eyes (edema) and weight gain. The weight gain can be in the region of more than 2 pounds per week or a sudden weight gain over 1 to 2 days. Women with mild symptoms of preeclampsia sometimes do no know that that they have the condition since they may not feel sick. Any swelling and weight gain may be attributed to pregnancy and not the condition itself, but the presence of high blood pressure should be an indication that you should see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Other more severe symptoms of preeclampsia include continuous dull, throbbing headaches, abdominal pain on the right side of the body, shoulder pain on the right side of the body, lower back pain, hyperreflexia, infrequent urination, nausea, vomiting and changes in vision.
Unfortunately, the only real treatment for preeclampsia is the birth of your baby. Mild preeclampsia – characterized by a blood pressure greater than 140/90 occurring after 20 weeks of gestation in a woman with no history of hypertension, or by having a small amount of protein in the urine, can be managed with careful hospital care or in-home observation along with restricted activities. You will likely be asked to drink more water and reduce your salt intake. Your doctor may also prescribe bed rest – with the request for you sleep on your left side almost all the time, or medication to prolong the pregnancy and increase your unborn baby’s chances of survival. If your baby is close to term, labor may be induced. The treatment for more severe preeclampsia (having vision problems, lung problems, abdominal pain and fetal distress) may require the delivery of the baby irrespective of the baby’s age. Other treatments include Hydralazine or another anti-hypertensive drug to manage severe elevations of blood pressure, as well as the monitoring fluid intake.
As with any condition, if you experience any unusual symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. It may be difficult to tell if something is wrong if it is your first pregnancy, due to you being unable to tell if the symptoms are just normal pregnancy symptoms or due to some other reason, but if you are ever in doubt, you should do your best to see a health professional. It could save the lives of both you and your baby.