The symptoms of pre-eclampsia
Throughout your pregnancy, your midwives will be keeping an eye out for signs of pre-eclampsia, a condition that only occurs during pregnancy
At a glance
- Pre-eclampsia can cause your baby to grow more slowly, and could lead to an oxygen deficiency
- Most of the symptoms are very obvious and will be picked up by your health professionals
- If you are at risk, your midwife may advise you to take a low dose of aspirin from week 12 onwards
Pre-eclampsia is a condition that only occurs during pregnancy and usually occurs after you reach 20 weeks pregnant. It is diagnosed through a combination of raised blood pressure and protein in your urine. The exact cause of pre-eclampsia is not known and more research needs to be done into the condition. It is thought that there is a link between pre-eclampsia and problems with the placenta.
Most of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia are very obvious and will be picked up by your health professionals – which is why you have to give SO many wee samples at your antenatal appointments – and high blood pressure (again, why you probably feel like you are constantly having your arm inflated by your midwife!). There are other signs that only you would spot though, including severe headaches, blurred vision, flashing lights before your eyes or pain just below the ribs.
What shall I do if I think I have symptoms of pre-eclampsia?
If you experience any of these symptoms, even if you are usually prone to headaches or migraines, you must get checked out straight away. Other symptoms are oedema – swelling in the hands, face and feet brought on by the high blood pressure and fluid retention.
How common is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is thought to affect around five percent of pregnancies, with 1-2 percent of those mums having severe cases. Except in very rare circumstances, it only only occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and although the exact cause of it is not known, it is generally thought to arise from a problem with the placenta.
Some mums have a higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia – those over 40, those expecting twins or more, and women with a family history of the condition.
What will happen if I'm diagnosed with pre-eclampsia?
If your midwives think you are at a risk of pre-eclampsia, they might advise you to take a low-dose aspirin from week 12 of your pregnancy onwards.
If you are diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, you will be assessed to see how serious your condition is, and your doctors will decide whether you need to be monitored in hospital. Pre-eclampsia can cause your baby to grow more slowly, and could lead to it having an oxygen deficiency.
You might be given drugs to lower your blood pressure, but there is no actual cure for pre-eclampsia – it only goes away once your baby has been born, so the decision might be made to deliver you early.
If you need help or advice on pre-eclampsia, there is a UK charity called Action on Pre-eclampsia UK – they offer a helpline for mums and other concerned family members, and can give you information and support.
Watch this NHS video on pre-eclampsia in pregnancy.