Why is preeclampsia so dangerous?

On Behalf of | Mar 26, 2019 | Birth Injuries |

When you became pregnant, you probably had an expectation that you would experience a lot of health changes. However, sometimes pregnancy can be physical overwhelming and cause complications.

One of the most common complications is preeclampsia, which affects at least five to eight percent of pregnancies. It typically begins after week 20 and can be especially dangerous for pregnant women and babies if left untreated.

What are the risk factors and symptoms?

Several patients can have a higher risk of developing preeclampsia:

  • First pregnancies
  • Previous diagnoses of gestational hypertension or preeclampsia
  • A family history of preeclampsia
  • A pregnancy with multiples
  • Women under 20 or over 40
  • Pre-pregnancy kidney disease or high blood pressure
  • Obese patients

Preeclampsia symptoms differ based on whether it is mild or severe, but both types of preeclampsia can be dangerous. Only three potential symptoms point to mild preeclampsia: high blood pressure, water retention and protein in the urine. Severe preeclampsia involves more symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Intolerance for bright lights
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Small urine outputs
  • Upper right abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bruising easily

Is preeclampsia treatable?

The most common treatment for preeclampsia is delivery. Some doctors may hesitate if the baby is not developed enough, but often it is the best option.

However, for babies that have not reached full development, which typically occurs around 24 weeks, doctors may need to pursue other treatment options if the mother has mild preeclampsia. Some options may include:

  • Resting on your left side to remove pressure from your major blood vessels
  • More prenatal checkups than normal
  • Salt reduction or protein increase in your diet
  • Increased water intake

Serious complications

Regardless of the condition’s severity, untreated preeclampsia can lead to serious complications, such as liver or renal failure or future cardiovascular issues. The condition also prevents the placenta from getting enough blood, which restricts food and oxygen flow to the baby. This leads to a low birth weight.

Most significantly, preeclampsia can lead to three life-threatening complications:

  • Eclampsia: this complication is a severe form of preeclampsia that leads to seizures
  • HELLP (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count) Syndrome: this complication occurs late in pregnancy and affects red blood cell breakdown and how the blood clots and liver function
  • Placental abruption: this complication is when the placenta separates before delivery, and it can be life-threatening for the mother and baby.

If doctors miss the signs of preeclampsia, especially if it is mild, that error could lead a pregnant woman to live with preeclampsia for an extended period without any treatment. Pregnant women can address any concerns with their doctor and know what symptoms are normal and what symptoms could point to something wrong.

However, if you experience any complications related to preeclampsia, it is possible the doctor may need to be held accountable for a misdiagnosis.