Sunday, January 15, 2012
Kevin, born early due to pre-e.

I posted before about my son’s early arrival and about how my pregnancy suddenly turned high risk but what caused these problems?  What is preeclampsia?  Who does it strike and what are the chances of recurrence?

According to the National Instituteof Health “Preeclampsia is when a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week (late 2nd or 3rd trimester) of pregnancy….The exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown. Possible causes include:  Autoimmune Disorders, Blood vessel problems, your diet, and your genes”.

So that definition isn’t too helpful. 

Also according to the NIH site “Risk factors include:  First pregnancy [check!], Multiple pregnancy (twins or more), obesity, Being older than age 35 [check!], and History of diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease.”

When I started my pregnancy I was at a healthy weight with no personal history of diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease although I have a strong family history of high blood pressure.  From the moment I conceived I was at the doctor’s office at least once a month – much more frequently in the beginning when I was followed by my Reproductive Endocrynologist until I was 12 weeks pregnant.  In addition to seeing my OB monthly, I was also seen a couple times by Maternal and Fetal Medicine – a high risk OB.  So I was really getting the best care a woman can get while she is pregnant and yet I still got sick and had a very scary experience.

At each monthly OB appointment my blood pressure was taken and my urine was checked for protein.  This is standard procedure for any pregnancy and for me; nothing rang an alarm bell until I hit 23 weeks.  At 23 weeks, 3 days I had a monthly OB appointment at which my blood pressure was 161/85.  Blood pressure in excess of 140/90 is a sign of preeclampsia.  I monitored my blood pressure at home for the next two days and finally called the doctor’s office when my pressure read 175/90.  The nurse checked the results of my urine test and immediately sent me to Maternity Triage at the hospital.

For the next two weeks I flirted with preeclampsia, taking my blood pressure multiple times a day and calling my doctor to tweak my medication.  Finally at 25 weeks, 3 days I was admitted to the High Risk unit, placed on magnesium sulfate (to prevent seizures) and monitored 24/7 for the next week.  I was also given a steroid injection to speed up development of my son’s lungs.  A week later my body stopped cooperating – my blood pressure continued to rise and no amount of medication could get it back down, my liver enzyme count was rising and my platelet count was falling.  I was scheduled for a C-section at noon.

Since my son was born I am sometimes asked why he came so early and what I did to cause the preeclampsia.  While there are many suspected culprits in the cause of preeclampsia very little is actually known.  Could I have exercised more?  Yes but my RE told me not to exercise because we had stimulated my ovaries and one ovary was wobbly (it actually caused me a sharp pain with anything more than a moderate walk).  Could I have eaten better?  Sure but I wasn’t eating much at all so really, anything I found appealing I ate – one week that was caprese salad for lunch and dinner daily.  Really I was a normal pregnant woman until the day I wasn’t.

The typical treatment for preeclampsia is bed rest, drinking lots of water, taking blood pressure medication and reducing salt.  Those buy time – in my case the treatments bought me three weeks.  That doesn’t sound like much but it was absolutely life or death for my son.  According to a recent preemie study in Sweden among babies born alive at 23 weeks, 53% survived; at 24 weeks, 67% survived; at 25 weeks, 82% survived; at 26 weeks, 85% survived.  So you can see that every day I was able to stay pregnant brought us closer to a better outcome.

Currently there is only one cure for preeclampsia – the delivery of the baby.  Even after delivery there is a continued risk of preeclampsia and stroke for up to six weeks. Research to identify the cause and develop an effective treatment for preeclampsia is ongoing (while this headline looks promising it’ll probably be years before this bears any fruit). ThePreeclampsia Foundation is a good source for further information.


Precious and priceless so lovable too, the world’s sweetest littlest miracle is, a baby like you.

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