What is Pre-eclampsia?

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When can you get pre-eclampsia?

The condition only occurs in pregnancy – usually after 20 weeks gestation – during labour and immediately post partum. Treatment depends on whether the condition is mild or severe, whether it is progressing rapidly or slowly and how far along the pregnancy is. 

What can you do about it?

Caesarean-section or induction

If you have reached 37 weeks it is likely that your caregiver will recommend delivering the baby, either by caesarean-section or induction, as this is the only real cure, apart from symptomatic and supportive treatment. 

Bed rest, medication and constant monitoring

If your condition is mild and you have not yet reached 37 weeks your caregiver will conduct a number of tests and either prescribe bed rest, possibly with blood pressure medication, or you will be admitted to hospital. Either way, the rest of your pregnancy will be closely monitored to ensure that your blood pressure stays down and that the baby continues to thrive.   You may be given corticosteroids to mature your baby’s lungs faster in case she needs to be delivered prematurely. Magnesium sulphate may be given intravenously to prevent seizures, as pre-eclampsia can, in rare cases, develop into full-blown eclampsia, which is characterised by seizures and eventually coma.  

What causes pre-eclampsia and related conditions?

The cause of pre-eclampsia and related conditions – including eclampsia, HELLP syndrome and hypertension in pregnancy (HPI) – is not known, but it is thought to be related to the functioning of the immune system. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Sudden and excessive retention of fluid
  • Swelling of the face and hands
  • Sudden weight gain of more than 500g a day
  • High blood pressure
  • Protein in the urine
  • Disturbed or blurred vision
  • Pain in the upper abdomen, just below the ribcage
  • Severe headaches

Women who are at greater risk of getting pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia runs in families and is more common in women who: 
  • Are first-time mothers
  • Had pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy
  • Are overweight
  • Are over 40
  • Are carrying multiples
  • Have pre-existing high blood pressure
  • Are teen mothers 
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