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Postpartum Preeclampsia: Symptoms and Treatment

Postpartum Preeclampsia: Symptoms and Treatment

Most cases of preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine, occur during pregnancy. However, there are times when it happens post-partum or after the baby’s birth. Here’s what you need to know about postpartum preeclampsia.

Postpartum Preeclampsia, an Overview

Postpartum preeclampsia is not different from preeclampsia during pregnancy, except it happens after the baby is born. Most women who develop this condition do so within 48 hours of giving birth. Still, some cases occur within 6 weeks after childbirth.

Someone who has preeclampsia experiences high blood pressure equivalent to or greater than 140/90 mmHg. Urinalysis also shows excessive amounts of protein in the urine (proteinuria) – an indication that there is an issue with the kidneys.

Left untreated, postpartum preeclampsia may lead to life-threatening complications like stroke, heart attack, and pulmonary edema (excessive fluid in the lungs). Moreover, it may result in HELLP syndrome, which stands for:

  • Hemolysis or the destruction of red blood cells.
  • Elevated liver enzyme, which increases the risk of liver failure.
  • Low platelet count, which increases the risk of severe bleeding or hemorrhage.

Finally, unmanaged preeclampsia after childbirth can result in post-partum eclampsia, a more serious case that involves hypertension and seizures or coma.

After Giving Birth: The Dos and Don’ts for New Mothers

Risk Factors

The exact cause of preeclampsia during and after childbirth is still unknown. However, the following factors may increase a woman’s risk:

  • Gestational hypertension or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Note: gestational hypertension is characterized by high blood pressure without
  • Obesity
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Hypertension before pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy before 20 and after 40

Signs and Symptoms

Postpartum preeclampsia is difficult to detect, seeing that hypertension typically does not result in any symptoms until the blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels. For this reason, it’s crucial for mothers to monitor their blood pressure and attend their postpartum check-ups.

Below are the common symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia:

  • Blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher.
  • A urinalysis positive for proteinuria.
  • Swelling in the face, hands, or feet.
  • Headaches, often intense.
  • Changes in vision or blurred vision.
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Reduced urination.
  • Increased weight gain.

If you experience these symptoms, don’t “wait it out” to see if you’ll get better. Seek medical help right away to reduce the risk of complications.

postpartum preeclampsia

Treatment

The primary way to treat postpartum preeclampsia is through medications that lower blood pressure. But since uncontrolled preeclampsia can turn into eclampsia, they might also order drugs to prevent the occurrence of seizures. Some cases of postpartum preeclampsia also require blood thinners to reduce the risk of blood clotting.

For hypertension, the woman may receive:

  • Diuretics, which help eliminate excess fluids in the body through urination
  • Vasodilators, which widen the blood vessels, which then reduce pressure
  • Beta-blockers that reduce heart rate

To prevent seizures, a common medication is magnesium sulfate. If the doctor determines that the risk of eclampsia is high, they might order it before childbirth. The patient typically needs to continue taking it for 24 hours after the baby is born.

Don’t forget to inform your doctor if you’re breastfeeding, so they can choose medicines that are safe for your newborn.

Recovery

Most women who get immediate treatment for postpartum preeclampsia recover well. Still, follow-up care is crucial because high blood pressure might have damaged the blood vessels and even the heart.

Also, please note that postpartum preeclampsia increases the risk of preeclampsia in succeeding pregnancies.

Prevention

There’s no one way to prevent postpartum preeclampsia, but you can take measures to detect it early and prevent complications.

First, attend to your prenatal check-ups, so the doctor can check your health status and risks. After giving birth, monitor your blood pressure, watch out for the signs, and don’t skip the post-partum consultations.

Should you observe the signs and symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia, seek medical help right away to receive prompt and appropriate intervention.

Learn more about Mothercare here.

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Sources

Maternal mortality from preeclampsia/eclampsia
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22280867/
Accessed April 21, 2021

Gestational Hypertension
https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/gestational-hypertension#:~:text=Gestational%20hypertension%20is%20diagnosed%20when,increased%20protein%20in%20her%20urine.
Accessed April 21, 2021

Postpartum preeclampsia
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-preeclampsia/symptoms-causes/syc-20376646
Accessed April 21, 2021

Postpartum Preeclampsia
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17733-postpartum-preeclampsia#outlook–prognosis
Accessed April 21, 2021

Postpartum hypertension: When a new mom’s blood pressure is too high
https://utswmed.org/medblog/postpartum-high-blood-pressure/
Accessed April 21, 2021

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated May 03
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
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