Gravidial toxemia, also known as pre-eclampsia, is a serious condition that occurs during pregnancy. While fortunately few women are affected, the symptoms are not always easy to recognize. With pre-eclampsia, you may have high blood pressure, elevated protein levels in the urine that indicate kidney damage (proteinuria), or other signs of organ damage. Pre-eclampsia generally begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure was previously within the normal range. Here are the signs to watch out for and the consequences for you and your baby.
When does pre-eclampsia occur?
Pregnancy-induced toxemia - or pre-eclampsia - is a condition that can occur in any pregnant mother. The most common signs are high blood pressure, protein in the urine and water retention. Fortunately, pre-eclampsia occurs in only 5 to 8 % pregnancies. Gravidial toxemia can develop as soon as the placenta is formed, and is therefore rarely detected before the 20th week of pregnancy. And even then, most often in women who have no symptoms whatsoever. This is precisely why it is so important not to miss any screening tests.
In rare cases, pre-eclampsia can develop up to six weeks after delivery.
The consequences of pre-eclampsia for mother and baby
If left untreated, pregnancy toxemia can be fatal for both of you. It is one of the causes of the development of HELLP syndrome, a true emergency in which blood coagulation and liver function are severely disrupted. Seizures (eclampsia) and organ damage can also occur very suddenly with pre-eclampsia.
In addition, pregnancy toxemia affects the blood and oxygen supply via the placenta. As a result, pre-eclampsia can also lead to growth and development problems in babies. However, early detection can reduce the risk.
Symptoms of pre-eclampsia
The symptoms of pre-eclampsia are not always easy to interpret. Nevertheless, they are generally well detected during screening examinations. In fact, one of the aims of frequent blood pressure and urine tests is to rule out pregnancy toxemia. Symptoms you can monitor yourself:
- Intense headaches and/or nausea
- Water retention
- vision problems, such as blurred vision, flashes in front of the eyes or double vision
- pain in the upper abdomen or under the ribs
- Muscle tremors
With headaches, nausea and body aches being common complaints during pregnancy, it's difficult to know when new symptoms are simply part of pregnancy and when they may indicate a serious problem - especially if this is your first pregnancy. If you are concerned about your symptoms, contact your doctor.
Causes of pre-eclampsia
So far, doctors don't know what causes pre-eclampsia. But it is thought to be linked to poor development of the placenta. As a result, a reduction in blood vessels is generally observed in affected mothers. This affects the connection between the mother's circulation and that of the child via the placenta. High blood pressure is the consequence.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to influence one's own risk of pre-eclampsia. There are, however, factors that increase the likelihood of pre-eclampsia:
- Pre-eclampsia in previous pregnancies
- Certain pre-existing diseases such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypertension, kidney disease or autoimmune disorders
- Multiple pregnancies
- Age under 20 or over 35.
How can pre-eclampsia be prevented during pregnancy?
Unfortunately, there's no sure way to prevent pre-eclampsia. But if you have certain risk factors, your doctor will suggest specific measures. A healthy diet, exercise and, if necessary, antihypertensive medication are also very helpful. However, most factors are difficult to control. And to date, there is no way of predicting gestational toxemia.
How is pre-eclampsia treated?
You will be prescribed antihypertensive treatment and examined regularly. It's also important to keep a close eye on your blood pressure. And to avoid further problems, gynecologists* generally induce labor at the 34th week of pregnancy. In the event of a foreseeable premature delivery, you will usually be given a lung ripening injection. You will then be closely monitored during the post-partum period, until the pregnancy-related intoxication disappears after a few weeks.