Preeclampsia is a pregnancy condition that involves high blood pressure, swelling and protein in the urine. Risk factors for developing preeclampsia include:
• 1st Pregnancy
• Age; young teens and women over 35 are at greater risk
• History of diabetes
• History of hypertension
• Family history (mother, sister, aunt) of preeclampsia
The typical preeclamptic patient has a blood pressure of 140/90 or greater with protein in the urine and swollen ankles in the late 3rd trimester. She may often complain about a headache. This patient is fairly straightforward, but what happens if these symptoms present in a patient who is only 31 weeks? Or 27 weeks? Some healthcare providers will try to “buy time” and “treat the patient with bed rest or blood pressure meds” and she ends up having a seizure or a stroke. The only treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby because it is the placenta that’s causing the problem. There’s something in the placenta that causes the blood vessels to squeeze and increase the blood pressure. Once the placenta is delivered, the blood pressure usually comes down but a woman can have preeclampsia and the risk of having a seizure for 96 hours after birth.
A patient may have a blood pressure of 120/80 with a measurement of 3+ protein in the urine. Her normal blood pressure is usually 90/60 and she has gained 5 pounds in one week. Yet her physician or midwife thinks this is normal. It’s not. They have been lulled into a false sense of security because her blood pressure is 120/80 and not 140/90. This patient should have her blood pressure repeated 2 more times within a 6 hour period and if it remains high, the diagnosis of preeclampsia is made. She should also have her urine collected for 24 hours to determine if there’s significant protein.
Why is preeclampsia often misdiagnosed? Because healthcare providers view the abnormal signs of pregnancy as “normal” variants. They’re not. A headache that doesn’t go away, a sudden increase in weight gain, swollen feet or ankles needs further evaluation as well as significant protein in the urine. If you think you have preeclampsia but your healthcare provider disagrees, by all means, call your insurance company and request a second opinion.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen it takes a smart mother who knows what to do.