For Zahra Aliakbar, pregnancy came with a lot of trouble. Little did she know that the joy of having a child would come with so many difficulties and health issues. The onset of third trimester brought with it new pregnancy symptoms, she knew little about.
Her blood pressure was high and she developed swelling in the legs and water retention also known as edema. Her family history of hypertension and diabetes may have caused gestational hypertension.
“I had high blood pressure in my 9th month. But luckily it was not that serious”, says Zahra. “I was even admitted for a few days and kept under observation”.
High blood pressure during pregnancy or gestational hypertension can be a problem and needs to be monitored. Around 10 to 25 percent of women with gestational hypertension can progress to having a condition called preeclampsia which damages organs. High blood pressure and protein in the urine are the main reasons which cause preeclampsia.
“In my last trimester, I had a lot of swelling and water retention on my face, hands, and feet. I was on medication to lower my blood pressure till I delivered my baby. This could have led to more complications, but thankfully it did not.”
– Zahra Aliakbar
Symptoms and Complications of Preeclampsia
It is characterized by swelling in the legs and water retention, but this can be hard to distinguish from a normal pregnancy. If preeclampsia is not treated it can develop to eclampsia, in which the mother can experience seizures, go into a coma, and can even die.
Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious complications for mother and the baby. Delivery of the baby is the best way to treat this condition but in some cases, it may take time for the mother to get better even after childbirth and in rare cases leads to a condition known as postpartum preeclampsia.
Blurry vision, sometimes seeing flashing lights, headaches, breathlessness, weight gain due to edema, vomiting, decrease in urine output are some of the symptoms to look out for if you are already having gestational hypertension.
The doctor may order blood tests, fetal ultrasound or non stress tests to check if there is decrease in platelets in the blood or impaired liver function or any restriction in fetal growth due to decreased blood supply to the placenta. Urine samples are collected over 12 hours or more, and the amount of protein is assessed to determine proteinuria. This can indicate the severity of the condition.
Causes and Cures
Though the exact causes of this condition are not known, experts say that the main reason is due to the narrowing of the blood vessels which may be caused due to a variety of reasons like damage to the blood vessels, insufficient blood flow to the uterus, immune system problems, genetic factors.
Though in most cases, delivering the baby is the best treatment, if you’re diagnosed with preeclampsia too early in your pregnancy, treatment or management protocol may include administering antihypertensive drugs, anticonvulsants and corticosteroids.
The doctor may also restrict physical activities and recommend bed rest to keep the blood pressure in control. Towards the end of pregnancy delivery may be hastened and labor is induced or a cesarean delivery is performed. Magnesium sulfate may also be given to improve uterine blood flow and prevent seizures.
Who is more at risk?
Family history, personal history of preeclampsia, women over 40 and teenagers are more likely to develop preeclampsia. Also certain conditions and illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines, kidney disease and obesity, increase the risks. If a woman is expecting two or more babies, the risk is more.
“Because blood pressure affects circulation, it can affect the amount of nutrients that are reaching the baby”, says Zahra who is also a nutritionist. “Therefore it is important to eat a nutrient-rich diet.Also include plenty of healthy foods like wholegrains, fish, nuts, legumes, fruit, vegetables and dairy products and foods rich in omega 3 are particularly important if someone has preeclampsia. Also abstain from fatty foods which may result in weight gain and oily foods which may cause indigestion, bloating and acidity”.
“Apart from some underlying causes for pre-eclampsia, the inevitable urges for certain kinds of food during pregnancy like spicy, sweet, sour, very often leads us to indulge in eating less nutritious food which triggers many gestational induced disorders like weight gain, gestational diabetes, and hypertension. So it’s best to curb the cravings and make conscious efforts to eat a healthy diet high in calcium magnesium Vitamin B and Vitamin D. Take regular supplements of the same. Avoid high salt foods like pizzas, pickles, potato chips, and such other processed foods, But it’s not recommended to follow a super low salt diet which may lead to water deficiency to the growing fetus”.