What causes pre-eclampsia remains a mystery – it is still the pregnancy disease of theories. The classical signs of pre-eclampsia are raised blood pressure, peripheral oedema (swelling of the hands feet and legs) and the presence of protein in the urine. The condition complicates five to eight per cent of all pregnancies but usually occurs in first pregnancies during the second half of pregnancy, although very severe cases may present earlier.
The only cure for pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby, but when the baby is very immature, it is sometimes necessary to try and buy some extra time in utero by prescribing some drugs for the mother to lower her blood pressure. In mild cases of pre-eclampsia there may not be any adverse effect on the baby, but when placental blood flow and function are severely reduced, there is a very real risk of the baby developing growth restriction (IUGR) and hypoxia (oxygen shortage). In this situation immediate delivery will prove to be necessary.
Regular ultrasound and doppler blood flow scans play an important role in helping to decide the optimal time for delivery of the baby in a pregnancy complicated by pre-eclampsia. The causes of pre-eclampsia are not clearly understood. Since the problem tends to run in families, there must be a genetic component. There are several pointers to suggest that pre-eclampsia involves an abnormal response of the mother’s immune system to the placenta and baby.
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Have you experienced pre-eclampsia?