A disorder that effects women exclusively during pregnancy and directly after giving birth, preeclampsia can have a negative effect not just on the health of the mother but the health of the unborn child as well. Between 5% and 8% of all pregnant women are affected by preeclampsia. The symptoms of the condition include protein in the urine, high blood pressure, changes in vision, headaches, sudden weight gain and swelling.
Called either toxemia or pregnancy induced hypertension at one time but now known as simply preeclampsia, the condition most typically begins presenting itself after the 20th week of pregnancy. It can last as long as six weeks past delivery, and is one of the leading causes of illness, including fatal illness in mothers and young infants around the globe. Even conservative casualty estimates say that preeclampsia and other high blood pressure disorders kill 76,000 mothers and 500,000 infants on an annual basis.
The Causes of Preeclampsia
So far, even after decades of exhaustive research, what actually causes preeclampsia has yet to be discovered. Several different theories have been proposed, none of which have exhibited any success in proving the cause of the condition, but in general the consensus of medical researchers is that the placenta, the organ that provides the child with nutrients and oxygen within the womb, may be involved in at least some way.
Some risk factors for high blood pressure in general, which may or may not be caused by the placenta but which can still have a deleterious effect on the health of the mother and the developing child, include obesity, genetic tendencies, nutritional deficiencies, or any of the myriad possibilities that can lead to a diagnosis of hypertension.
The Dangers of the Condition
The dangers preeclampsia poses are high, and not just for the health of the mother. While hypertension is unhealthy for anyone, though much more in the case of pregnant mothers, it places the life of an unborn child in danger of being born prematurely or suffering from low birth weight. With no true way to “cure” the condition short of giving birth, pregnant women suffering from preeclampsia or who are in danger of developing high blood pressure are often prescribed bed rest, time off work, or blood pressure medication to control the condition. In the most severe cases, hospitalization may be required.
In the event that a severe case of preeclampsia may be threatening the health of both mother and child, there are a few steps that can be taken by medical professionals to safeguard the lives of both. In the case of women who have reached their 37th week of pregnancy, medical professionals will often recommend inducing labor immediately to reduce the risk of injury. In the event that the child has not matured enough, doctors will often administer steroid injections to the mother in order to strengthen the child’s lung muscles prior to delivery. In extreme cases, when the health of the mother, the child, or both is at heightened risk, doctors will deliver a child early, even if it may expose the child to risks associated with premature birth.
With preeclampsia leading to conditions in the child such as cerebral palsy, blindness and/or deafness, learning disabilities, and epilepsy, the seriousness of the condition cannot be underestimated. In the case of premature births due to preeclampsia, many doctors will prescribe magnesium sulfate to protect the mother from maternal seizures brought about by the condition. When administered prior to birth, this magnesium sulfate may also confer some protection to the child as well.