Scary Shit Series – Preeclampsia

If preeclampsia was a person, it would be that unassuming guy at a party that farts then walks away from a conversation to go piss in the punch when no one is looking.

It seems quiet and harmless, but it’s sneaky and mean.

Approximately 6-8% of women develop preeclampsia and it usually develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy and can occur up to six weeks after you’ve had the baby. Although, 37 weeks pregnant to 48 hours post delivery tends to be the sweet spot for rearing its ugly head.

What happens is your blood vessels constrict for no apparent reason (there are many theories but I won’t get into that here) causing your blood pressure to rise.

A few things tend to happen because of this “squeezing” caused by the high blood pressure, your kidneys leak extra protein into your urine, and your capillaries leak fluid into your tissue cells which can often makes your face, hands and eyes swell up (called edema). If you don’t address it, this pressure can also damage your kidneys, liver and brain, and it can restrict the blood flow to the placenta, often leading to smaller or prematurely born babies. After that, you can get into seizures, then it is eclampsia and it can be life threatening to both mom and baby.

That’s the scary part. If left unchecked, it can go from nothing to something fairly quickly and the only real cure for preeclampsia is having your baby. That is why medical professionals are very twitchy about it, and it’s one of the reasons you are constantly having your blood pressure taken and having to pee in a cup at your pre-natal appointments.

The good news is that it rarely gets that ugly. More than likely you will be put on bed rest and you’ll be monitored. If the preeclampsia doesn’t cooperate, then you’ll be admitted to the hospital and more than likely given magnesium sulfate intravenously to prevent seizures, and medication to lower your blood pressure. If you’re past 34 weeks, then your doctor or midwife may suggest that you be induced or have a c-section.

So here’s what to watch out for:

Swelling:

Swelling of the hands, face and eyes in particular. Your feet often swell when you’re pregnant but it’s when you’re getting puffy in the face, or if it comes on suddenly, that it’s a bit of a flag. Now, let’s be honest, I got ‘puffy’ all over when I was pregnant and could have been cast as Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so I’m not sure I would have noticed this one. Still, it’s a good symptom to watch for. If you notice when you press on your skin you still have a dent where your finger was, then hustle to the hospital to get checked out – that’s not a “wait and see” sign.

 

Sudden Weight Gain:

If your body is leaking fluid into your tissue, then your body isn’t getting rid of it so that often translates into a rapid gaining of weight. Anything over two pounds a week is something to make note of. (Again, this from the woman who gained 5 pounds in a week although, I think I was retaining Dairy Queen and not fluid.)

 

Nausea or vomiting:

You *should* be over any morning sickness at this point so nausea and vomiting that kinda comes out of left field should be brought to your doctor or midwife’s attention.

 

Severe pain below your ribs and/or shoulder pain:

Don’t ignore pain that’s just below your right ribs or your right shoulder. (I guess it’s sound advice not to ignore any kind of severe pain). Shoulder pain can feel like someone is deeply pinching you along the bra strap or on your neck, or it can be painful to lie on your right side. Again, toddle on down to the hospital if you think you’re experiencing this one because your body may be telling you, “hey lady, something is wrong with your liver”, and you need your liver.

 

Headaches and/or changes in vision:

A persistent and/or severe headache is another one to watch out for, along with vision changes, including temporary blindness, seeing flashing lights or spots, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision. Again, your body may be telling you that your blood flow is being seriously restricted and to seek some medical attention. STAT.

 

“Why thank you! I’m pregnant so I’m completely unfamiliar with swelling and weight gain” you say sarcastically. This is one of the many reason preeclampsia is such a dick. Not only does it often present similar symptoms to a normal pregnancy, you may have no symptoms at all and be completely floored by the news that you have this potentially dangerous condition. This is why it’s important to pee in a cup all the time and it’s why your blood pressure is seemingly taken every ten seconds after you’ve had a baby.

 

The following may also put you at higher risk for preeclampsia:

 

    • Pregnant for the first time.
    • A family history of preeclampsia
    • A 10-year or longer gap between pregnancies.
    • Had pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy.
    • Over the age of 40, or under 20
    • Obese before becoming pregnant, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.
    • Multiple fetuses
    • An existing medical problem, such as kidney disease or high blood pressure.
    • Diabetes

So, basically everyone at some point. Good times.

There’s a fine line here. I don’t want to scare you because even if this develops, it usually doesn’t escalate into anything severe, but I do want to impress the importance of keeping an eye out for these things and taking this condition seriously.

When my friend Gala was pregnant with her first child, she was told to take it easy because she was showing some signs of preeclampsia and her doctor wanted to run a few tests. Gala went home to lie down for the day, and failed to mention her blurry vision and swollen legs because she didn’t want to come off as being whiney. The next day she went to the IKEA summer sale, driving range, dinner and late night dessert trying to squeeze the most out of her last weeks of freedom so she was pretty surprised when her doctor finally got a hold of her and tossed her in the hospital. She ended up being pumped full of magnesium sulfate, stuck in a dark room with the lights off, then induced. After she had the baby, she was monitored for a few more days (in the dark) then finally released.

Thankfully both Gala and her daughter Eliza (who has grown up to be one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever laid eyes on) escaped unharmed but it just goes to show that you don’t have to feel really sick to be really sick.

So keep your pre-natal appointments and stay alert for any sneaky symptoms and don’t let that party farter piss in your punch.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If you have been diagnosed with preeclampsia and want to get more information about it, I found preeclampsia.org was a really helpful resource.

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29 Comments

  • Thanks for the great info. On a random note, just wondering if you’ll be covering PPROM in your scary shit series. I had it with my first and knew NOTHING about it until I researched it AFTER I had my preemie because of it 🙂 I’d love to chat if you’d like to feature that pregnancy issue as well!

  • I really wish people would quit saying having your baby is the cure for pre eclampsia. This is NOT always true. I had pre eclampsia at 39 weeks. I was induced, had my baby, and then 2 days later something felt off, went and got checked and my blood pressure was ultra high. It turns out I had post partum preclampsia. No one warned me it was even a possibility. I wondered if I was just imagining things since feeling off after having a baby is pretty normal but something in my gut told me to get checked. If I would have let it go on any longer I could of had seizures or even lost my life. So I’m warning people everywhere I can.

  • Hi,

    Thanks everyone for your stories. I am 37 weeks preg. At 35 wks my legs and feet were very swollen and Id been getting spots in my vision on & off for a week or so. My mum and sister noticed how swollen I was and Mum suggested I go to a doc (she had PE with me & my sister). So I mentioned it at my nxt check up (4 days later). The doc took my BP which was 120/90 (normally its very low ie 90/60). And I did a wee test which showed protein at level 34 (whatever that means) and their cut off is 30. So I went back a couple days later for the 4hr BP checks, etc. The baby seemed fine, my BP ranged from 60-85 D over the four hrs, the bloods tests were fine, and my protein in wee had gone down to 26 – but it wasnt mid stream cos I couldnt get enough wee. Ive also had a mildly sore neck for a few days and quite sore under my ribs mainly when sitting or laying down. I am not sure if I should be thinking its a possibility or not. Is it normal for symptoms to come & go? I feel like my symptoms are too mild atm.

    • Hmmm, I’d still check it out. Preeclampsia makes me really twitchy so it’s not something I would take a ‘wait and see’ approach with. I know it’s a drag but you’d make me happy if I knew all was well 😉

  • I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at 38 weeks and a week later I was induced to get rid of preeclampsia. It wasn’t severe and i didn’t have any symptoms. Even my blood pressure was fine. It wasn’t until I delivered baby that things got crazy. The day after I got home from the hospital, I decided to check my blood pressure and found it really high and it just kept climbing the whole day until it was at stroke level. I was put into triage immediately and spent 3 extra nights at the hospital getting pumped with BP meds. Thankfully baby and husband could stay with me. Pre-e can stay or start to happen even after delivery. Everyone needs to check their BP at home just in case! If I didn’t check mine, I would’ve had a stroke and seizures.

    Also, magnesium sucks. I hated not being able to have my baby with me that night with the magnesium due to dizziness. Couldn’t hold her all night for safety reasons :(.

    Thanks for the article, its important for women to be knowledgeable, but not scared, and you did a great job with that. Wish I read this article when I found out I had preeclampsia. All I could think of was sybill in downton abbey D:

  • Pre-E is definitely a shit scary thing. As an Ob, I would wager all of us would want to hear about the swelling, headaches, blurry vision, weight gain, etc. You aren’t whining- you’re just sharing clues than can help keep you and your sweet baby safe. PLEASE share!

    Amy M– Thank you, as always, for keeping it real!

  • I had an almost textbook-perfect pregnancy with no problems, and then I developed preeclampsia and HELPP syndrome after being induced at 39 weeks. It was very scary (and the magnesium sulfate was so awful). It’s important for women to know that it can still happen even if there are no signs of it during the pregnancy.

  • I enjoy your posts so much. Thanks for keeping it 100.

    It’s been 14 years since I had a baby and last time I was "borderline pre-e" but this time at 30 weeks I was thinking I was in the clear! Maybe I’m an asshole for thinking that. Thanks for reminding me that it’s not over, until it’s over. Last baby, indeed!

  • Thank you for being real about this. I totally underestimated pre-e right up until the point when I was tossed in the hospital at 35 weeks after a day of yard saling an pedicures with my husband. Even then, no one really explained the severity of the situation, which was really bad because I didn’t have any symptoms except increasingly high blood pressure a protein counts that kept creeping up. It was only months after my son was born (26 days early, via C-section) that anyone explained to me what could’ve happened if I hadn’t been treated or monitored.

    Moral of the story: ladies, don’t be afraid to ask questions and even "complain" more than you normally would. You are growing a person and have every right to have every detailed explained and examined.

  • I actually got this email while I was pregnant. Remember thinking PE sounded terrifying and then i got it.

    I had a really uneventful pregnancy except for literally 2 days of heartburn and some weird one off symptoms no one could explain- one was shoulder pain and the other was one night of pain and inability to breathe as if someone was sitting on my chest. Shoulder pain happened over thanksgiving so I didn’t go in to see anyone, just thought I’d tweaked it. The night I couldn’t breathe was the first of January (EDD was 2/21/14) and I had just flown back from the east coast so thought that I had just overdone it. Whenever I google to see if I could find out the cause behind the weird symptoms the only thing I could find was posts from people who had had PE. I was swollen over Christmas/New Years but had been flying so thought it was mostly related to that.

    My BP was always normal. I had protein in my urine starting the beginning of January but they said without high blood pressure it could be anything so not to worry. I had also gained more than 2lbs a week over thanksgiving and Christmas but they said not to worry as many people gain a little extra weight over the holidays. My BP had been elevated before Christmas but I had just driven for 1.5hrs in stop and go traffic (a drive that is usually 20 mins) so was very flustered and frustrated and so we chalked my abnormal BP to that.

    I went in for my 33 week appointment and everything was normal except my BP was slightly higher. 140/60 nothing crazy.

    I came back the following week for my 34 week appointment. All was well until the end when they took my blood pressure and it was 160/100 and I still had protein in my urine. They sent me straight to the hospital. I felt fine. I had felt tired and sore and more on edge than normal at work but otherwise fine. The hospital put me straight on a BP monitor and my BP shot up and peaked at 175/120. The nurses frantically worked to bring it down. It finally normalized after about half an hour of IV drugs at which point the Dr came in and told me they were going to need to induce me as it was unlikely that I would make it safely to 37 weeks. I was shocked. I cried and got ready to meet my little one a lot earlier than expected.

    I was on magnesium sulfate for the next 36 hours. I also developed HELLP syndrome the following morning and had regular blood draws to keep an eye on it. After 24 hours of cervical softening they broke my water and without petocin or other medical intervention I gave birth to my 5lb 4oz son 25 minutes later. I was told that the speed of my delivery was an indication of how sick I was. My body catapulted my little guy straight out. Right after I delivered they put the BP monitor back on and I had spiked to 186/130. I went into shock after the labour amd shook for 2 hours and my little guy went back to the nicu. We both stayed in the hospital for 4 more days before we we’re discharged with daily appointments. It took over a week for my blood pressure to normalize on intense oral meds.

    Important take always from my experience…

    • GO TO YOUR APPOINTMENTS EVERY WEEK! I can’t imagine what would have happened if it’d missed my 34 week appointment.

    • keep track of what normal BP is for you. Mine started rising but was still in ‘normal range’.

    • if you have weird symptoms TELL someone when it is happening. And not just your friend or significant other, a professional.

    • take weekly or biweekly pictures and compare your swelling. No one around me noticed me swelling excessively because they saw me every day.

    • having the baby is the only way to fix preeclampsia but after having the baby, depending on the severity of the PE, you will not be better! You are still sick. Rest and be careful with yourself!

  • Thank you so much!! I was diagnosed at twenty-six weeks out of the blue, told ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, carted off the the hospital with the iv drip from hell, and then just dumped in a dark, cramped, sweaty room for a week while everyone in the hospital set out to p!ss off the lady with high blood pressure and level 2 pre-e. THEN they got mad and huffed at me because my bp was high! GO FIGURE!! I knew NOTHING of the symptoms and was honestly scared to death. I wish I’d known about your blog then..

    I’m now pregnant with my second little accident and am terrified of it happening again. Your post actually made me relax a bit. Reading all the comments has put me at ease, too. I never knew it was so common (they made me feel like a freak and a failure for having a premature baby).

  • Thanks for the post. I stumbled across your site today while surfing the internet because at 30 weeks and 6 days I have been put on bed rest. I thought your ankles were supposed to swell when you were pregnant… and I had a headache because, well, I’m pregnant, right. Or not. Hopefully I will look back at this and laugh about the time the doctors thought I was getting pre-e. Thank you for not making it sound like the end of the world! (Nothing helps raise your already high blood pressure like reading about pre-e on the internet!) This was also a nice way to explain to my husband exactly whats going on.

  • Thank god that someone finally talks about this. I had my son at 32 weeks by emergency c-section. He was 3 lbs 6 oz and 18 inches long. He is now healthy but had to stay in hospital five weeks.
    I had been having low bp and fainting spells my entire first and half of my second trimester. My doctor was a complete idiot. After my low bp went back to normal I complained of headaches and generally feeling worse than I should of for 28 weeks. He didn’t even look at my charts and told me everything was normal so when I came in three weeks later I was swollen and my family told me I looked like I was dying. He had gotten the wrong charts in my previous appt and my kidneys were failing, his boss sent me to the nearest hospital. The previous results showed elevated proteins.
    I had mag-sulfate but after two days my bp was at seizure levels and my sons heartbeat was showing signs of strain. I had to have a catheter and meds for three days after birth cause my kidneys were functioning at less than 40% normal functions. After being released I lost almost 40 lbs in a week. I had called my doctor multiple times before my appt and he had kept telling me I was being dramatic or a worrisome first-timer.

    DO NOT IGNORE ANY SYMPTOMS!!!!! if you think something is wrong go to your doctor if he won’t listen go to a hospital or another doctor.

  • I got this with my first pregnancy, and was induced when 37 weeks pregnant. However, the induction took its sweet time and I actually became 38 weeks pregnant before my son was finally born. The whole experience was pretty crap and everything felt so artificial, that when my water broke unexpectedly by itself (while I was completely alone in the delivery room!), I rejoiced that at least SOMETHING happened naturally without the need of medical intervention. I was hospitalized for three days before my son was born, and stayed in the hospital for 8 days all in all. Now I’m 26 weeks along with my second child, and my midwife has told me that as long as it’s the same father, the chance of getting pre-e is now half of what it was the first time around. And it will halve again for a third child if we ever want another. So this time I’m hoping to finish my 40 weeks of pregnancy (38 weeks isn’t premature, but he was a skinny little thing and fell asleep at the breast all the time so getting the milk to flow was hell), have labour start on its own, and preferably also not have an epidural. Where I live (Norway) you get an epidural whether you want one or not if you have pre-e, because it lowers your blood pressure. The anasthethe … anasthth … drug doctor person had to poke four times with that insanely huge needle, and when it was finally in place, the drug only lasted for a little while before the pain returned. So yeah. Pre-e is a biatch.

  • At 25 weeks, my blood pressure was a little high, and I had slightly elevated levels of protein in my urine. My doctor wasn’t that concerned, so he recommended a 24-hour urine test, and that I come in again in a week. That week later, my doctor is telling me to go to the hospital immediately. As the doctor told my husband, "She doesn’t feel sick, but she is VERY sick." I was in the hospital on magnesium and steroids for two dayse before they decided to do a C-section and remove my baby girl. It was either that, or I was going into organ failure.
    She is home now, and healthy, but it was a scary time and a long road.

  • I was diagnosed with pre-e around 36 weeks. I was told not to attend my babyshower, to lay the EFF down, and let us know if your vision changes. Well i went to my baby shower, and I was literally the elephant in the room. I had swelled to an unrecognizable size, and I was noticeably not myself.
    I was clearly not enjoying the game of 'guess how big Shannon got with a string.' My 60 year old uncle took pity on my suffering ass and got out the lotion and gave my clump feet a long rub, while my family and friends were kindly escorted out.
    I was induced the next day, and shit got serious. i kicked everyone out, only my nurse could stay. All lights out, monitors turned right down, and all consulting was done in the hallway. I don;t even know if my husband was around. I was so out of it. i can remember hearing someone come into my room and I spoke in a low grumbly voice (get the f*ck out)
    72 hour after birth, I was back. Baby boy was fine, and everyday i lost more and more water weight. But I tell ya, pre-e is a B*TCH!

    whew rant over

  • I had pre-eclampsia and HELLP. I had my baby boy 1/16/12. He was a month early at 36 weeks. It all really started quickly in the first week in Jan, as I was due 2/11/12 and I had not had my baby shower yet. I had to pee in a jug because I had protein in my urine and had high bp at my check ups in my last trimester. One day I had pain under my ribs, (it felt like all my organs were being pushed up into my lungs), but I knew I had to take it easy that day. Before we went to bed that night, I still had pain under my ribs, so I called the hospital and talked to a nurse to ask her if I should come in. I went in Sun night about 11p. They measured my bp etc. Eventually at 2am, they put me on pitocin. I started feeling contractions but I just knew I had to relax and stay as calm as I could. I still had no idea what was going to happen next. They eventually put me on the HORRIBLE Magnesium. Thank you for the comments about the horrible magnesium, because it really was horrible. I was totally out of it from then on. Felt like crap, can't really explain it. Eventually, at around 1030am, my Dr. came in and told me we are going to do a c-section. Again, I was still feeling out of it because of the magnesium, but all I could see from then on was the tiles on the ceiling and then bright lights. They got me onto another bed in the operating room, and told me they were going to do a spinal. I thought it was going to be bad, but after she gave it to me, I said, "that was it?". Then up goes the curtain and out comes a crying baby. Later on that night, a bunch of Dr's came in and it was hectic because apparently my bp fell so low. I was in the hospital from Sun evening to Fri afternoon. Thurs of that week in the hospital, I had to get a blood transfusion, not sure why, maybe because I lost a lot of blood?? Recovering from the C-section was the hardest part of it, I think. I never realized how much you use your abdominal muscles for everything! Carter Michael was 6.1 pounds at 36 weeks and I am blessed to have a healthy baby boy. He is almost 6 months now. Anyway, what I am really getting at is, I am thankful that I found your blog from PINTEREST, reading about your story about what happens after birth, that I read on and found the pre-eclampsia story. I was shocked to find out that the magnesium was to prevent seizures! I had no idea! Thanks for the stories, I look forward to more from you.

  • I had pre-e–well, I had marginal/normal BP, and no/very little protein in urine, so they were being on the safe side by trying to get me to check into the hospital a week or so before my due date–but I held them off until one day (three days before due date) my BP was slightly OVER the normal range (which is admittedly high for me, it's usually very low). I went home for lunch, then to hospital, and talked my OB into NOT giving me mag sulfate and seeing if I could progress with just rupturing membranes. Managed to have the baby in six hours with just her breaking my water to get me started. Thank GOD I didn't have to get mag sulfate, pitocin, etc.

    I didn't know how dangerous it was until afterward either. So glad it did not get worse.

  • Ah! This has been my biggest fear – as every week goes on! I always feel like my urine is too "cloudy" and start to freak! Like I'm a doctor and that even means anything.

    Everyone tells me to save my worrying for when the baby is actually here! So, that's what I'm sticking to!

  • I gained 35 pounds in a matter of 8 weeks – all water weight as far as I could tell. I was swollen EVERYWHERE. Luckily I never had the blurred vision or headaches but during my labor (after being induced because of high BP) my BP skyrocketed even more and they administered magnesium. If pre-eclampsia is a dick, magnesium is its jerk best friend. I had cotton mouth, nausea and was so hot I sweat through the hospital gown. My husband was melting ice on my forehead to try and keep me more comfortable. For some reason the nurse wouldn't let me have anything to drink for the cotton mouth so I was sneaking ice chips when she wasn't around.

    The only good thing to come of it (besides my baby)? I lost 40 pounds in 4 days after having her, and 50 pounds in a week. Retaining water much? Thankfully I have been spared in my subsequent pregnancies. I didn't realize how serious the condition was until after it all happened. I'm happy I didn't know because I would have been freaking out a lot more.

  • Thanks for this. Something to remember too, as I experienced when I developed sudden preeclampsia just as I went into labor, is that constant pain between contractions is NOT NORMAL. Nobody told me this. I thought it was just part of being in labor. I sat at home in really awful pain under my sternum for about 16 hours waiting for my contractions to get to that magical 4-1-1 point. They never did, but when my hands ballooned up, I thought it was time to go to the hospital. I've never seen anyone panic so much as the nurses after they took my blood pressure and measured my liver stuff…

  • PE sure is a dick. I had beautifully low BP before my baby came. Then at 37 weeks it exploded to 172/144. I had the nausea (Thought it was the flu), headache (thought it was a migraine), when saw strobing sparkles and went blind I knew something was wrong. This all happened within hours. Had my baby by emergency c-section that day. Baby was only 5 lbs but otherwise healthy. Interestingly enough all my books that should have prepared me don't say much about PE. I think that there should be more awareness on it so thank you Pregnant Chicken.

  • Thanks for writing about this! I was diagnosed with PE and HELLP Syndrome at 29 weeks and had an emergency c-section in the same day. I was in intensive care for 2 days. I was really sick. It's nothing to mess with. So if you have symptoms, tell your doc and take it easy! PS. My baby is doing great and will be a year old next week!

  • I'm 32 weeks along with my first bub and have been officially diagnosed with PE this week. It was always on the cards given I have recorded high BP readings since pregnancy was confirmed despite previously having a normally very low BP. I have to admit, I was really upset and am now a little scared but trying to stay positive that it wont progress further than the feet/hand swelling and sometimes starry vision. My OB now has me on weekly visits and the GP is available to see me immediately if necessary so now we're just playing the waiting game. The hard part is trying to keep husband calm about it all 🙂
    I didn't have any of the risk factors either apart from being a first timer too.

  • Yep. My BP crept up throughout my pregnancy. I was on bedrest at the end and had to do the 24-hour pee-in-a-jug test. Super fun. I ended up getting induced 5 days shy of my due date. The magnesium sulfate was the worst, though. I felt like I had a hangover, complete with pounding head and barfing. And they couldnt give me anything for it! I'd take transition any day over 20 hours of that.

    I didnt have any of the risk factors other than being a first timer.

    Thanks for posting about this!

    • Ahhh, peeing in a jug for 24 hours. I did that too. Grossed my husband out everytime he opened the fridge to see my pee jug sitting there. Good times……

  • This is scarey shit. Mostly because you don't feel anything! I was diagnosed with preeclampsia at 35 weeks. The only symptom I had was high blood pressure. I was "fine" one day and then 3 days later was admitted to the hospital and induced. My protein count was over twice the limit and my BP wasn't dropping with meds. Not my ideal of an ideal birth story.

  • *mwah*

    pre-e is a dick.

    Thank you SO much for covering this.
    And putting emphasis on the "TELL SOMEONE" aspect… you're 100% right, you're not being whiny, you're being an advocate.

    If I could time travel, I would have gone from that 39.5 week appointment (where I was totally passing protein, gained 10lbs in 3 days and was having higher than usual BP) to my husbands work and then to the hospital.

    Also, Magnesium Sulfate is a bitch.

    Right, so thanks again 🙂

    -Stephanie, conqueror of HELLP and Level I pre-e

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