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22nd May 2019

World Pre-Eclampsia Day

On World Pre-eclampsia Day, Consultant Gynaecologist Pradnya Pisal offers an insight into this pregnancy complication.

Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication where the mother develops high blood pressure, swelling and protein in the urine. It commonly occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy, more so around and after 34 weeks. It can also occur close to delivery and after delivery.

Some mothers will have no symptoms at all except for swelling of the lower legs, which can be a symptom of normal pregnancy. The high blood pressure can cause headaches, vision disturbances such as flashing lights, vomiting, upper abdominal pain. Some women will experience a reduction in the amount of urine they are passing and the swelling may not be limited just to the lower legs. Their urine will show significant amount of protein. In severe cases, mothers can become very unwell and have a seizure. 

First-time pregnant mothers, older women and very young women, women who have pre-existing hypertension and diabetes and women who have medical conditions such as lupus are most at risk. Women who are overweight and who have family history of hypertension or have developed pre-eclampsia in previous pregnancies are also at risk. Women with twins can develop pre-eclampsia earlier in pregnancy and some women with a pregnancy abnormality called molar pregnancy will also develop this in the second trimester.

Babies of mothers with pre-eclampsia can be affected by growth restriction and may need earlier delivery or preterm delivery. When the condition develops in early pregnancy the baby is monitored with regular scans to check this. When delivery occurs early, the baby will have to be admitted to neonatal intensive care. There is a higher chance of these mothers needing induction of labour and increased chance of caesarean delivery.

Eating healthily, avoiding being overweight and controlling weight gain in pregnancy and after delivery are very important when it comes to avoiding pre-eclampsia. Women who are at high risk are prescribed low dose aspirin.

If women are experiencing symptoms of pre-eclampsia, they should urgently contact their midwife, see their GP or attend the maternity pregnancy assessment unit that is open usually during day time hours. Out of hours, they should contact the number for obstetric triage or the labour ward.

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