Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Being Aware of Preeclampsia

With May being Preeclampsia Awareness Month, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of this dangerous disease.

What is preeclampsia preeclampsia awareness month
What is preeclampsia?

From preeclampsia.org:

Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period and affects both the mother and the unborn baby. Affecting at least 5-8% of all pregnancies, it is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision are important symptoms; however, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms.

It also accounts for 15% of all premature births in the United States.  I know these facts because last May I sat in the hospital after having my son at 31 weeks of pregnancy. I remember thinking that I was painfully aware of preeclampsia.

In the United States preeclampsia causes 18% of maternal deaths. I know this because I lost an acquaintance from complications of preeclampsia just months before my own journey. So when the doctors sat at my bedside explaining the seriousness of the situation, all I could do was nod and say, “Yes. Believe me. I’m aware.”

It seemed like a cruel cosmic joke that I would get preeclampsia. I had no risk factors. It was my second pregnancy. When my friend died, there was a feeling of that could never happen to me. So it goes.

Fear and waiting

My daughter’s fifth birthday party was upon us, and I spent the day working far harder than a pregnant woman should, so when I started bleeding that evening we thought I had just overdone it. Hours later I was diagnosed with a partial abruption and mild preeclampsia and kept in the hospital for four days.

That “overdoing it” may have been what kept me safe. My next regular midwife appointment was not for another two weeks, but I was monitored more closely. Within two days of discharge my blood pressure had skyrocketed, my legs were enormous, and my face was puffy. I was given a do-not-pass-go trip back to the hospital. I was 29 weeks pregnant.

The next two-and-a-half weeks was a mix of fear and boredom as we waited on my body to make the next move — as we sought balance between my life and his. There is something almost unbearable about this knowledge.

The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery, but we wanted to buy my son every possible day in utero, so we monitored me around the clock for signs that I had entered the danger zone. When left untreated preeclampsia can progress to Eclampsia (seizures) or HELLP syndrome — the results of which took the life of my friend.

At 31 weeks and 5 days my beautiful son was born via c-section after my lab work went downhill. We were lucky — with weeks in the hospital I had been given two complete rounds of steroid shots, and he came out breathing on his own. Because of the Magnesium Sulfate given to prevent seizures I was not allowed to see him for the longest 24 hours of my life. After 40 days of the typical NICU rollercoaster he came home, and at one year old he is thriving. Though preeclampsia generally resolves itself within 48 hours of delivery, I was an outlier who relied on blood pressure medication for more than six months.

No one is sure what causes preeclampsia, and because prompt treatment is needed and delivery is the only cure, awareness is key. Visit preeclampsia.org to learn more about the warning signs, and how you can help raise awareness for this unfortunately common, and serious, condition.

Preeclampsia Awareness Month

Photo Credit: Charlotte Shoneman

Rhiannon Giles About Rhiannon Giles

Rhiannon Giles is an overwhelmed mother who only occasionally considers giving her children to the circus. Her daughter, born in 2010, was a full term induction due to Cholestasis of Pregnancy. Because she likes a full range of experiences she went with partial abruption and severe Preeclampsia for her second pregnancy. Rowan was born in 2015 via an urgent c-section at 31 weeks and 5 days, and spent 40 days in the NICU. Rhiannon has a sarcasm problem and writes regularly at rhiyaya.com . To keep up with new posts and see some of her favorites, join her on Facebook. To read more about Rowan's story, head over to rowan.small.and.mighty.

Comments

  1. Marissa says:

    I had preeclampsia up until a week before my due date I showed no signs or symptoms I went in for my weekly schedule check and I have pitting edema in my legs protein in my urine and my blood pressure was sky-high they sent me to the hospital and by 5 p.m. they told me they were inducing my labor I went through 15 hours of Labor gave birth to my daughter felt fine went to get up to go to the recovery room and ended up having to seizures had to be put on meds to keep me from having more seizures but the first 48 of hours of my daughter’s life I don’t really remember because I was so tired and worn out from having the two seizures I ended up with a hematoma in my vaginal wall that they had to monitor after I had the seizures because they were worried about it rupturing I can say that I’m very blessed that nothing more serious happened to me or my child very thankful that I was able to deliver my daughter without having any complications that put her life in danger all in all God was looking out for me. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. Such an important article, Rhiannon! Thank you for helping to share life-saving information through your blog. The only exception I would make in your otherwise very accurate article, is the phrase “The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery…”.

    A better term than “cure” might be “treatment” since preeclampsia can still continue after delivery and in some cases may appear for the first time up to 6 weeks postpartum. This is important so that moms and their family members are clued in to warning signs after delivery and make sure she is getting the attention she needs immediately.

    Thank you again for your important contribution to Preeclampsia Awareness Month (preeclampsia.org/PreAM) #PreAM16.

    ~ Eleni Tsigas

    • Very good point! Most websites say “cure”, so that’s what I used. But clearly it’s not even an applicable term for my situation, since I had high BP for more than six months, and was still spilling some protein at my last primary care appointment.

  3. Rachel CH says:

    I had my daughter at 31 wks 4 days via an emergency C-section due to placental abruption and pre-eclampsia. Fortunately I had the steroid shots done a few days before because my doctor believed my daughter had IUGR. Everything happened at once and came as a complete shock to me because I never had any health problems. Reading your article reminded me of when I was in recovery after the surgery ( I also couldn’t see my daughter for 24 hours) and the nurse said they had to monitor me in case of a stroke. I think that’s the first time I realized that my life was in danger too. Looking back I think I did shows signs of pre-eclampsia but they weren’t severe and I didn’t listen to my body or my instincts. I do want to have a second child eventually but I’m scared of going through this again.

    • At least you are much better prepared for next time! If you want to read about and chat with others who have had the “second pregnancy jitters” check out preeclampsia.org/forum. It can be rough, but most women do better and having greater knowledge is empowering.

      Best wishes!

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