Pregnancy can be one of the most joyful experiences for a parent-to-be, but it’s not always smooth sailing all the way through. Unfortunately, complications such as preeclampsia do sometimes occur.
Preeclampsia is a condition that accounts for around 2% to 8% of all pregnancy-related complications, which means it’s pretty rare. Having said that, recent studies have found possible links between the recent COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in cases of preeclampsia. So, given it can pose a risk to both you and your baby, it’s helpful to be aware of the symptoms of preeclampsia.
With that in mind, we asked Dr. Gian Carlo Di Renzo, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Perugia, Italy, to share everything it’s useful to know. From what preeclampsia actually is to risk factors, symptoms, and treatment, keep reading to find out more.
What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication most often seen after the 20-week mark of pregnancy that can cause a number of health issues at the same time. The most common signs are high blood pressure, protein in your urine, and swollen legs, which is why all these things are regularly monitored in your prenatal appointments. Usually, preeclampsia will be picked up quite quickly, thanks to these tests.
In more severe cases, usually when left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to organ damage such as kidney disease, stroke, seizures known as “eclampsia,” HELLP syndrome (which can cause abdominal pain, exhaustion, vomiting, blurred vision, and swelling), or in a very worst-case scenario, death. Of course, this all sounds very scary. But rest assured: these situations really are the rarest ones. And mostly, cases of preeclampsia are mild. Anyone who’s diagnosed is monitored very carefully by health care professionals, so you’re in safe hands.
What causes preeclampsia?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific reason why preeclampsia develops, and as with many female health conditions, that’s because there’s still a lot more research that needs to be done. But the main theory as to why preeclampsia occurs is that there’s something wrong with the way the placenta develops and functions.
Let’s rewind for a moment. The placenta is the organ that develops in pregnancy to provide the fetus with all the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive in the uterus. In order for the placenta to do its job, it needs to connect the baby to the mother’s supplies via a network of blood vessels. But in women or people who get preeclampsia, it’s thought that these blood vessels don’t develop properly, causing issues with how well blood is circulated. In turn, this can lead to the high blood pressure that preeclampsia is known for.