Do you ever wonder why you have to leave a urine sample every time you go to the doctor for a prenatal checkup? Along with all of the other tests they run, such as blood work and ultrasounds, they are looking for potentially threatening conditions.
With the urine test in particular, they are looking for excess protein, which may be a sign of preeclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure which can be dangerous and life threatening to your unborn baby.
The details of this condition are well known to most expecting mothers, and it typically resolves with birth.
However, unknown to most mothers is the fact that preeclampsia can also manifest itself postpartum.
If you are not aware that this condition exists, and if you are not watching for the signs, you could be in grave danger. You may write off some of the symptoms as normal side effects resulting from childbirth, but if you do know what to be watching for, you can bring it to your doctor’s attention and begin receiving treatment before the condition progresses.
Postpartum Preeclampsia Symptoms
The symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia are similar to those of prenatal preeclampsia, and the most definitive signs can usually only be detected by your doctor: excess protein and high blood pressure.
Lab tests will determine if there is an excess amount of protein in your urine based on the sample you gave at the doctor’s office. High blood pressure, especially when you have no history of it, is also a telltale sign of preeclampsia.
Now, there are times when you may have a false alarm reading, when protein levels or blood pressure is high and there is actually no concern for preeclampsia.
Not having a proper meal or drinking enough water before your appointment has cause the protein in your urine to very concentrated, and a chatty nurse who makes conversation with you while taking your blood pressure can cause your numbers to be a bit high.
However, your doctor should be able to tell the difference based on your previous readings or your family history.
Other symptoms that could potentially be the result of preeclampsia may be a little less obvious, but can be detected by yourself. Severe headaches, changes in vision, swelling and/or rapid weight gain, or vomiting can all be signs.
If you notice any of these things, particularly within the first few weeks of having a baby, call your doctor immediately.
Causes and Risk Factors
While the precise cause of preeclampsia, both prenatal and postpartum, are not understood, it is believed that the cause for both is the same, and that postpartum preeclampsia is set into motion during pregnancy but exhibits no signs until after the baby is born.
There are factors that can put a woman more at risk for developing the condition:
Preeclampsia is not just a funny spelling with too many “e’s”. When left untreated, it is actually the precursor to a condition call eclampsia (pre-eclampsia), which has much more dangerous repercussions, affecting the nervous system and potentially even leading to death.
Eclampsia is caused by excessively high blood pressure, causing pressure in the blood vessels and brain, interfering with your brain’s ability to function and resulting in seizures. It can also affect kidney function due to excess protein that the kidneys are not able to filter out.
With all of the excess pressure on your blood vessels, you are also at risk for clots. This can cause you to have a stroke or thromboembolism (a blockage that results from a clot that travels from another part of the body).
Pulmonary edema – excess fluid in the lungs – and HELLP syndrome (Hemolysis [destruction of red blood cells], Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count) are life-threatening conditions that can also result from untreated preeclampsia.
Here is an interesting account of the experience of the complications that come with the condition, and the warning signs that there was something wrong and that treatment should be sought.
Postpartum Preeclampsia Treatment
Preeclampsia, both prenatal and postpartum, need immediate attention to avoid potentially life-threatening conditions.
Depending on how high your blood pressure is, your doctor may start you out on a 24-hour dosage of magnesium sulfate to prevent any potential seizures. During this time, your blood pressure and urination will be closely monitored, and you will be expected to follow up with your doctor shortly after.
Following this, you will likely be put on a hypertension medication to keep your blood pressure in check. Both the magnesium sulfate and most hypertension medications are considered safe to take while breastfeeding, but be sure to talk to your doctor about your options before starting a new medication.
Unfortunately, while the prenatal condition typically resolves upon the birth of your child, there is no definitive answer as to whether the postpartum condition will go away. It will be a matter of monitoring your blood pressure, watching for signs of hypertension.
While it may return to normal after a short period of time, you may also be at a higher risk for developing hypertension and other related diseases in the future.
If you notice anything out of the ordinary, especially if you feel like you cannot catch your breath shortly after your baby is born, talk to your doctor immediately.
You will want to determine if you have developed postpartum preeclampsia as soon as possible to avoid potentially life threatening side effects.
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