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What Does Your Doctor Do If You Have Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that can affect women after the 20th week of pregnancy and throughout the six-week postpartum period. Preeclampsia is marked by a combination of high blood pressure (hypertension) and the presence of protein in urine (proteinuria). Regular prenatal checks are important because hypertension and proteinuria can present as "silent" symptoms. If preeclampsia is diagnosed, your doctor will monitor your condition closely to keep you and your baby safe and healthy. Timely treatments for preeclampsia offer relief for unpleasant symptoms and help prevent the onset of eclampsia -- a critical condition that can prove life-threatening for mom and baby.

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Mild Preeclampsia

Symptoms of mild preeclampsia include water retention, swelling of the hands or face (edema) and rapid weight gain of more than two pounds in a week. If you experience mild preeclampsia pre-term, or before the 37th week of pregnancy, your doctor might suggest bed rest at home. Your doctor might advise you to lie on your left side to prevent your baby's weight falling onto major blood vessels. A member of your health care team will check your blood pressure and urine samples frequently, possibly every couple of days. You might receive dietary advice to include more protein in your diet, reduce your salt intake and drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Your doctor might also perform tests such as fetal heart rate checks to monitor your baby's health, too.

Severe Preeclampsia

Mild preeclampsia can rapidly become more severe. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience nausea, vomiting, headaches, visual disturbances, light sensitivity, a decreased urine output, abdominal pain, shoulder pain or shortness of breath. Severe preeclampsia can also induce feelings of confusion and anxiety. Treatment includes bed rest in the hospital and close monitoring by your health care team. You might undergo blood tests to determine liver function and how effectively your blood can clot and receive medications to lower your blood pressure and prevent seizures. Your baby's health will be monitored, too, via tests such as ultrasound. If you are more than 24 weeks pregnant, you might receive steroid injections to hasten maturation of your baby's lungs in case urgent, premature delivery is required.

Elective Delivery

If you experience severe preeclamptic symptoms when you are at term, or more than 37 weeks pregnant, your doctor might advise immediate delivery of your baby. If preeclamptic symptoms become critical when your pregnancy is pre-term, premature delivery might be the only way to safeguard the health of you and your baby. For example, urgent delivery might be required if tests show that your baby is not receiving enough oxygen or if you experience fluid on the lungs (pulmonary edema).

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Postpartum Preeclampsia

Preeclamptic symptoms of hypertension and proteinuria usually resolve after delivery of the baby. However, in some instances, blood pressure can rise during the first few days after birth. Your doctor will continue to monitor your health because postpartum preeclampsia, which can develop up to six weeks after delivery, remains critical for the mother. "Approximately 80 percent of deaths from preeclampsia occur during the postpartum period," says Eleni Tsigas, executive director of Preeclampsia.org. Moreover, postpartum preeclamptic symptoms can be misrepresented as sleep deprivation or mild depression. "A lack of familiarity with normal postpartum experiences, coupled with overriding focus and attention upon the newborn, may cause you to ignore preeclamptic symptoms," she says.

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