If you’re like me, the only reason you heard about the condition preeclampsia in recent years, is because several celebrities had it. Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, and Mariah Carey all developed it during their pregnancies and spoke out about it; it’s why Kim Kardashian used a surrogate after she carried her first two children. I never thought that I would know so much about preeclampsia or that it would consume the last month of my pregnancy. The biggest thing I learned is that negative outcomes from preeclampsia are preventable, but the sooner you know you are at risk, the better.
May 22nd is designated as World Preeclampsia Day, a day to raise awareness about the condition and its global impact. If you were ever an expectant mom who used pregnancy apps or Facebook groups, you know that it’s something that is talked about with fear and trepidation. I remember the updates from my What to Expect app warning about the symptoms and the numerous threads in my Facebook groups where pregnant women worried that their pains or swelling might be the first sign they were developing it. In fact, every article you read about preeclampsia, its diagnosis, symptoms, and outcomes starts with “preeclampsia is a serious and possibly life-threatening condition…” which is not very comforting if you’re someone who is at risk for it or has been diagnosed with it. Especially if you’re a person who was told they were on the road to developing it and you’re also a person who has an especially bad habit of Googling incessantly (like me). But, the articles all start this way (I suspect) because not everyone takes their diagnosis as seriously as they should and it’s important to make sure you are on top of your medical care when you have it or are developing it.
My journey with preeclampsia started when I went to my doctor for a routine third-trimester check-up and was surprised to hear that my blood pressure was unusually high, 132/96. My doctor also noticed I had some swelling in my legs, hands, and face. He then explained to me that I might be developing preeclampsia and that I had a few risk factors for it. He told me they would take blood and urine samples to determine whether I would be diagnosed with it and told me to buy an at-home blood pressure cuff and take my blood pressure twice a day.
According to the Mayo Clinic, preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related condition that is generally characterized by high blood pressure, high levels of protein in urine, and possibly other signs of organ damage. It generally begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Other symptoms include:
- Severe headaches
- Changes in vision
- Pain in the upper belly, usually under the ribs on the right side
- Decreased levels of platelets in blood
- Increased liver enzymes
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden weight gain or sudden swelling
There are also conditions that put you at an increased risk for developing preeclampsia such as:
- Having had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- Being pregnant with multiples
- Chronic high blood pressure
- Type 1 or 2 diabetes before pregnancy
- Kidney disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Use of in vitro fertilization
- Being in your first pregnancy with your current partner, or first pregnancy in general
- Family history of preeclampsia
- Being 35 or older
- Complications in a previous pregnancy
- More than 10 years since last pregnancy
In my case, I was one month past 35 years old and it was my first pregnancy. My doctor referred me to a perinatologist (a maternal-fetal medicine specialist), to be cautious. The reason is that preeclampsia needs to be carefully monitored because it can turn into some very dangerous and serious issues. Two of the most serious are Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets (HELLP) syndrome and eclampsia. HELLP is a severe form of preeclampsia that affects several organ systems and can be life-threatening or cause lifelong health problems. Eclampsia is when someone with preeclampsia has a seizure or goes into a coma. Oftentimes, if a woman with preeclampsia’s blood pressure goes sky-high or their labs go far outside the normal range, they are forced to deliver their baby early, in order to prevent things from getting even worse. That’s because generally after birth, preeclampsia patients’ vitals go back to normal. The only cure is not being pregnant anymore.
When I visited the perinatologist, my baby was viewed in an ultrasound and more labs were ordered. I was told that I would have to deliver at 37 weeks or before, but not after, because 37 weeks is considered full term and it would be needlessly dangerous to wait any longer with my worsening symptoms. I was also told that if my blood pressure or lab results got significantly worse, it could be sooner. But I was assured, based on the ultrasound, even if my baby was born that day, he would be fine. That was February 2, 2023.
The next day was Friday, February 3, 2023. My family was flying in from Chicago and friends were RSVPed to attend my baby shower the following day, on February 4th. I got a call from the perinatologist to inform me my lab results came back and that I was now in preeclampsia territory, meaning my diagnosis was official.
That evening I had dinner with my aunt and cousin, did some last-minute preparations for guests to arrive for the shower the next day, and went to bed. I was laying in bed watching TV, when my water broke.
My son Lucas was born the evening of February 4, 2023. I went from my diagnosis to holding my son in my arms in less than 48 hours, at 34 weeks and five days pregnant. Five weeks early. But my premature delivery did not have anything to do with my preeclampsia, which is unusual. I have joked that Lucas heard them diagnose me from inside the womb and said to himself “I’m out of here!” But really, no one knows why my water broke that early. My doctor told me he thought it was probably for the best, as I was starting to get pretty sick.
While I was only officially diagnosed with preeclampsia for one day, my journey with it lasted a few weeks and it was scary. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me or my baby and how my delivery would go or how soon it might happen. I would never have known I needed to take any precautions if I hadn’t attended my regular doctor visits to get my blood pressure checked. That’s why one of the most important things a person can do while pregnant is go to their prenatal appointments. Knowing the early signs and symptoms can also be extremely important because if you are experiencing them you can go to the doctor to get your blood pressure and labs taken sooner.
You can about the symptoms and ways to prevent complications on several websites, here are a few that are helpful: