Friday, May 20, 2011

My Pre-Eclamspia Story

May is Pre-Eclampsia Awareness Month. Pre-eclampsia is serious pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Though its cause is unknown, it is estimated to cause 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year. But I do not want to focus on statistics. Instead, I'd like to share my personal experience with this scary disease.

My second pregnancy was not exactly easy. When I was about twelve weeks along, I slipped and broke my leg in two places. I healed in a couple of months and thought I would sail through the rest of the pregnancy. I was wrong.

About 34 weeks, my body started to signal that something was wrong. I had been feeling more tired than usual. Others noticed, too. At least one co-worker each day would comment about how tired I looked. I chalked it up to being in the third trimester. I also suffered from horrible heartburn and indigestion, often so bad that it made me sick. At times I would get bright spots in front of my eyes. (Again, I attributed this to pregnancy and getting up too quickly). I swelled quite a bit. I did not notice it in my hands or face, but maybe that was because I was swollen everywhere! My legs retained so much water that they got stretch marks. Then I showed up for my 34-week prental checkup and learned that I had gained nearly 20 pounds in a week! At that same visit, my urine test indicated traces of protein.

My midwife ordered a 24-hour protein test and sent me home with orders to rest with my feet up whenever possible. I was working full time then, and I did not take the condition as seriously as I should have. In fact, I was on a work trip out of town when I received a phone call that my protein levels were elevated. I began to slow down a bit then. Around 36 weeks, I took my blood pressure at home and it was very high. I don't remember the exact number, but I do remember the number I got hours later at an emergency midwife visit: 160/106! I was told to go home, grab my hospital bag, and prepare for delivery. I said a teary-eyed goodbye to my 17-month-old, and off I went. The day itself reflected the gloom I felt, and just as we took off, the gray November sky began spitting snow.

Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. I checked in to the hospital, was hooked up to magnesium, and rested overnight before the induction began. They started pitocin at 7 a.m., broke my water at 2 p.m., and I gave birth to my beautiful Isaac at 3:33. At 36 weeks, he weighed 8 pounds and (except for some jaundice) was a healthy little boy. I am grateful to my midwives for supporting a fairly low-intervention vaginal birth, despite my urgent condition.

I was lucky. Some women develop pre-eclampsia at 20 weeks or earlier. At 20 weeks, you may still only having monthly pre-natal checkups. This is why it is so important for you to pay attention to your body. If anything feels off, please call. Don't wait until your next appointment. The main warning signs or pre-eclampsia are:
  • Hypertension: high blood pressure; you can check it with a home cuff or on a drug store machine.
  • Proteinuria: protein in the urine; can show on the urine test strips you take at your prental visits. You can purchase the reagent strips for home use if you are concerned.
  • Edema: swelling, especially in the face or hands; "pitting edema," where your finger leaves an impression after applying pressure, is also concerning.
    Weight Gain: more than 2 pounds in one week.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: normal "morning sickness" usually clears up after the first trimester; nausea and vomiting that suddenly appears mid-pregnancy can be a sign.
  • Abdominal, Shoulder or Lower Back Pain: can be mistaken for indigestion or growing pains. Pain that is more acute than muscle strain or increases when lying on the right side can signal HELLP syndrome, a more serious form of pre-eclampsia that involves the liver.
  • Headache: dull or severe throbbing headaches that will not go away.
  • Changes in Vision: temporary loss of vision, sensations of flashing lights, auras, light sensitivity, and blurry vision or spots.
  • Racing pulse, mental confusion, heightened sense of anxiety, shortness of breath or chest pain, sense of impending doom.
If you have had pre-eclampsia before, it's not the end of the world. You can go on to have a healthy, natural birth--even a home birth if you choose! After Isaac, I went on to have an uncomplicated pregnancy and a healthy daughter nearly two years later. It always haunted me, though, and probably will throughout any future pregnancies. I pay close attention to the signs. A few other measures may prevent or treat pre-eclampsia. Some risk factors (such as multiple pregnancy or autoimmune disorders) are out of your control, but there is one that is not: obesity! Going into pregnancy at a healthy weight has lots of benefits. Many practitioners swear by a high-protein diet for fending off pre-eclampsia. Some studies also suggest that a calcium deficiency could contribute to pre-eclampsia. (Though I have no proof, I've always thought my pre-eclampsia was related to my broken leg.) Prevention methods are still debated, but overall good health and nutrition can't hurt.

Above all, pay attention to your body. If something feels wrong--whether it's pre-eclampsia, or another complication, or not even pregnancy-related--do yourself a favor and have it checked out. I'm glad I did!

For more information, visit the website of the Pre-Eclampsia Foundation.

1 comments:

Lola Smith said... [Reply to comment]

Hey,A baby has had enough to consume when she shuts her eyes, releases the areola, or pulls away, says John Worobey, Ph.d., director of the bureau of nourishing sciences at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, NJ. Don't demand that she keep on nuring or completion her jug. (Obviously, if your baby demonstrates no enthusiasm toward consuming for a few feedings in succession, give your doc a call.) Thank you!!!
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How To Lower Blood Pressure

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