Pre-eclampsia is a condition which occurs in pregnancy and can be dangerous for both you and your baby if it is left untreated.
It is a combination of raised blood pressure and the presence of protein in your urine which is thought to occur when there’s a problem with the placenta, although the exact cause is still unknown.
Most cases are mild and may have no effect on the pregnancy but if the condition gets more severe there is a risk that other organs may become affected as well as causing you to feel unwell.
Pre-eclampsia also has the potential to progress into a more dangerous condition known as eclampsia, which occurs in 1-2 percent of pregnancies. In the worst cases this condition can cause the death of the mother or baby.
Please don’t panic, however.
The condition is usually discovered during routine antenatal appointments and can be managed safely from there.
Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Research Centre in London is currently running a huge international study calling SCOPE which is looking at whether we can predict and prevent complications such as pre-eclampsia in late pregnancy.
Pre-eclampsia occurred in 3.4% of the normal-weight women in our SCOPE trial.
Many women, like blogger Jodie Melling, have never heard of the condition before finding themselves at risk of developing it.
Jodie was diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure) at her 36 week check and taken to hospital to be checked for signs of pre-eclampsia such as protein in her urine.
“I was shocked. I didn't feel any symptoms such as dizziness or blurred vision, I just felt normal.”
After being checked over and kept for a night on the maternity ward for monitoring Jodie was given medication to bring her blood pressure down and discharged.
“I had to test for protein daily and I was told that I would now see a midwife twice a week for blood pressure checks.”
At 38 weeks Jodie’s blood pressure was found to be extremely high and she was sent back to the hospital.
“I was scared and thoughts of an emergency C-section filled my head, something that I wanted to avoid.”
After having blood tests and urine samples Jodie was again discharged but continued to be monitored twice a week.
At just over 40 weeks Jodie’s urine showed a small amount of protein which can be an indication of pre-eclampsia. Her blood pressure was registering at over 100 which is high enough to be classed as dangerous so Jodie went back to hospital.
“Again, I was so surprised that I had no symptoms and that I felt normal, I was terrified or what was going to happen.”
Jodie’s blood pressure was not being bought down by the medication she was given and the doctor also found protein in her urine. She was then diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.
The condition can only be cured completely by delivering the baby and the placenta. Jodie was told that the doctors were going to induce her and that she would be leaving the hospital with her baby this time.
“I was shocked and worried but excited to meet my daughter. So off I went into a delivery room with my mother in law by my side, my husband was informed and set out from work.”
Having a birth different to the one you have initially planned for and anticipated can be a very stressful experience.
“I had a catheter put in which hurt, I was starting to feel overwhelmed and panicked at what was happening to me. I was having my blood pressure taken by a machine every 15 minutes and I had some nice bruises on my arms afterwards from all the BP readings. I wasn't allowed to move from the bed due to being hooked up to everything and after 16 hrs 44 minutes my daughter was born. I had pethadine, epidural, forceps and a episiotomy. I ended up with an emergency delivery as her heart rate dropped as she had the cord around her neck. Thankfully we were both fine and I had to stay in hospital for 5 days as my BP was still high.”
Pre-eclampsia will improve soon after your baby is born but you will both need close monitoring in the days following the birth.
This period of time can be highly emotional as Jodie found when she was taken back to hospital after her first night at home due to the fact that her blood pressure was high again.
“I cried. I was so sad and I just wanted to be home and start our new family life together. It was hard as most mothers went home the next day and some even the same day but I was on the ward the longest.”
Pre-eclampsia can be a traumatic experience and cause anxiety going into any future pregnancies. It’s important to give yourself time to recover following a complicated birth and seek any support you may need.
“I am now at greater risk of getting it again but if we decided to have more children then I will be under a consultant who will keep a closer eye on me.”
The SCOPE study has already had some fantastic achievements in this field such as the development of flow charts that can be used to work out the risk of pre-eclampsia early in the pregnancy. We hope that the continuing outputs of the study will help mums like Jody.
If you want more information about this ongoing study you can read a report of SCOPE and its current findings here.
If you are feeling anxious going into a pregnancy after having had pre-eclampsia then talk to your GP about your concerns. Also, our midwives are on hand at 0800 0147 800 from Monday to Friday to offer you any advice or support you may need.
If you want to read more about the condition Jodie experienced you can visit our pregnancy information page about pre-eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome here.
If you’d like to read Jodie’s full original account you can do so at her blog Wigan Mum.