Pre-eclampsia and hypertension during pregnancy
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Dr Sarah Temple
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A family doctor with more than 20 years experience working with children in both General Practice and Mental Health Services. Trained to run Emotion Coaching Parenting Courses. She has a special interest in the link between child and parental wellbeing.
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Pregnancy Health

Pre-eclampsia and hypertension during pregnancy

Pre-eclampsia, sometimes called toxaemia, is a pregnancy-related condition where the pregnancy drives up the woman's blood pressure. Pre-eclampsia usually develops after the 20th week of pregnancy. It is potentially life-threatening for the mother and baby if left untreated and develops into eclampsia.
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In Short
Woman with pre-eclampsia usually have high blood pressure (hypertension), swollen hands and feet and protein in their urine (proteinuria).

This is why routine antenatal checks are so important. Your antenatal care team will pick up signs of any pregnancy-induced raised blood pressure and protein in your urine straight away and start the appropriate management procedures.

Pre-eclampsia and hypertension during pregnancy

Pre-eclampsia is quite common – occurring in around five percent of pregnancies. By monitoring blood pressure and urine, it can usually be detected when the condition is still mild. This usually means it can be managed until delivery is possible. There is no cure as such – other than delivering the baby. However, if you have moderate or severe pre-eclampsia you will be monitored more closely and may be prescribed blood pressure medication. However, it usually goes away several weeks after the birth. It may mean that your baby needs to be delivered soon after 36 weeks or even earlier.

Are some women at higher risk of pre-eclampsia and hypertension?

You are considered higher risk if you are in one or more of the following categories:

  • This is your first pregnancy.
  • You are in your early teens or aged 40 or over.
  • Your last pregnancy was more than 10 years ago.
  • You are obese.
  • You have a family history of pre-eclampsia.
  • You are carrying more than one baby.

In addition, you are at statistically greater risk if you:

  • Had high blood pressure in a previous pregnancy.
  • Have chronic kidney disease.
  • Suffer with diabetes.
  • Have a disease that affects the immune system, such as lupus or antiphospholipid syndrome.
  • Had pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy.
What other symptoms are there?

Even if you’re not in one of the high-risk groups, call your antenatal care team or your doctor straight away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the upper right part of your abdomen.
  • Swelling of your hands or your face.
  • Dizziness.
  • Sudden weight gain.
  • Blurred, or changes in vision.
  • Headaches.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Anxiety.
Treatment and management of pre-eclampsia

You might want to discuss using a blood pressure monitor at home during your pregnancy. This means you can see immediately if your blood pressure is climbing and call the antenatal team rather than waiting for the next clinic appointment.

The only way to stop the development of pre-eclampsia is to deliver your baby early. This means if you are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia you will have your blood pressure and urine monitored regularly until it’s safe for your baby to be delivered. This will normally be at around 37-38 weeks of pregnancy. However, in severe cases babies will be delivered earlier.

Early delivery with either be artificially induced to start labour or caesarian section will be scheduled.

You may be prescribed medication to lower your blood pressure until your baby is delivered.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.