Postpartum Preeclampsia - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Postpartum Preeclampsia

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Are you pregnant and trying to learn more about the various health issues that can crop up after pregnancy? Have you heard about postpartum preeclampsia and do you want to know more about it?

If you can relate to the above questions, consider reading our post. Here we talk about postpartum preeclampsia, how it occurs, and how do you treat it.

What Is Postnatal Preeclampsia?

Postpartum preeclampsia is a rare medical condition. It mostly affects women who are prone to or suffer from high blood pressure and have a high amount of protein in their urine right after delivery.

In most cases, postpartum preeclampsia will set in within 48 hours after the baby is born, though in some cases it can also develop till up to six weeks after the birth. If the postnatal preeclampsia sets in later, during the six weeks period after the birth, it is referred to as late postpartum preeclampsia.

Postpartum preeclampsia is a serious condition and requires immediate medical treatment. If the condition is not treated on time, it can lead to more serious health complications such as seizures and more (1).

Symptoms Of Postpartum Preeclampsia:

It is not possible to detect the postpartum preeclampsia symptoms, without any medical knowledge. In most cases, women who suffer from postpartum preeclampsia will not exhibit any signs of the same while they are pregnant. The symptoms may not be apparent at the time of birth or right afterward. You may be busy attending to your newborn baby or taking care of your healing body that most of the symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia may skip your attention.

Here are some symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia. While you may not always be able to spot them, knowing the signs will help:

  • High blood pressure or hypertension in which the reading will be 140/90 mm Hg or higher.
  • Extremely high amounts of protein in your urine, a condition that is also known as proteinuria.
  • Sudden headaches that will be very severe.
  • Sudden changes or disruptions in your vision, where you may also experience temporary loss in vision. You may also experience a high sensitivity to light or find your vision getting blurry.
  • Swelling on your face or limbs.
  • Pain in the upper abdominal area which will most likely be under your ribs and on the right-hand side.
  • A sudden decrease in the number of times you urinate.
  • Sudden and unexplained gain in weight where you may gain as much as about a kilo in a week (2).

[ Read: Vision Changes After Pregnancy ]

If you notice any of the above symptoms right after your baby is born, or even a few weeks or months after the same, make sure you seek immediate medical attention. Even if you are not sure if your symptoms are actually an indication of postpartum preeclampsia or if you are experiencing only a few of the symptoms, it is still important to get in touch with your doctor to make sure that you are safe and get the required treatment if needed. Your doctor or the medical team will check for all the symptoms and if you do test positive the doctor will put you under supervision immediately.

What Are The Causes Of Postpartum Preeclampsia?

The medical world has not yet been able to fully understand the causes that lead up to postpartum preeclampsia and opinions are still divided. Pre-eclampsia and postpartum preeclampsia occurs in almost six to eight percent of the total pregnancies. It is thought that even though preeclampsia gets treated on its own at the time the mother is giving birth, postpartum preeclampsia occurs during pregnancy, but shows up in symptoms only after the baby is born (3).

[ Read: Symptoms Of Postpartum Anemia ]

Risk Factors Associated With Postpartum Preeclampsia:

As with the case of the causes that lead up to preeclampsia postpartum , there is not much research available into what are the many risk factors that could occur in someone who is suffering from the same. However, most doctors and the medical fraternity feel that you are at a higher risk of getting preeclampsia after delivery if you are affected with any of the following health complications:

1. High Blood Pressure, Also Known As Hypertensive Disease:

If you have been diagnosed as having high blood pressure, or hypertensive disease, in your most recent pregnancy, it will cause a high risk of getting postpartum preeclampsia. You will be at an especially high risk if you have developed the high blood pressure after you completed 20 weeks of your pregnancy, a condition that is known as gestational hypertension.

2. A Family History Of Postpartum Preeclampsia:

If you have someone in your family who has had a case of postpartum preeclampsia, it can also put you at a higher risk of experiencing the same. A first-degree relative, such as a parent or a sibling who suffers the same, will increase your risk of contracting the condition.

3. Obesity:

If you are overweight, have gained too much weight during your pregnancy or are obese, you are at a dangerously high risk of contracting preeclampsia after birth.

4. Pregnant With Multiple Babies:

In case you are carrying, twins, triplets or multiple babies, it will also increase your chances of contracting postpartum preeclampsia.

5. The Age Factor:

If you are pregnant and are younger than 20 years, or are pregnant and are older than 40 years, you have a high risk of getting affected with postpartum preeclampsia.

Doctors have also pointed to the observation that the genes of the father can also have a role to play in whether or not the mother will suffer from postpartum preeclampsia, but more research and data is needed to validate the same (4).

Complications Of Postpartum Preeclampsia?

Once you get affected with postpartum preeclampsia, there are various other health complications that can arise as a result of the same. Here, we look at some health complications that are related to postpartum preeclampsia:

1. Postpartum Eclampsia:

Postpartum Eclampsia is a serious condition in which you have all the symptoms and complications of postpartum preeclampsia but also have the additional condition of seizures. If you are suffering from postpartum eclampsia, it can cause permanent damage to many of your most vital organs. In postpartum eclampsia, you run a high risk of sustaining permanent damage to your brain, kidneys as well as the liver. If postpartum eclampsia is not treated properly on time, it can result in the patient going into a coma. In severe cases, it can also lead to death.

2. Stroke:

Sometimes, the blood supply to the brain can become disrupted due to some reason, or become drastically reduced. In such a case, you lose an important source of oxygen and food to your brain, which may lead to a stroke. If you suffer a stroke, it is an emergency situation and needs to be taken care of by a medical team immediately. If not treated immediately, a stroke can result in coma and death.

3. Pulmonary Edema:

Pulmonary edema is a serious condition that can lead to death. It happens when there is an excess of fluid accumulated in your lungs.

4. HELLP Syndrome:

HELLP Syndrome refers to a condition known as hemolysis (in which the red blood cells in your body are destroyed); you suffer from elevated liver enzymes as well as a low platelet count. It is a fatal condition that can lead to death.

5. Thromboembolism:

Thromboembolism refers to a condition in which your blood vessels get blocked. It happens when a blood clot travels from one part of your body and reaches the blood vessel, which gets blocked. Thromboembolism is a critical condition and should be treated as an immediate medical emergency (5).

[ Read: Symptoms  Of Postpartum Stress ]

Before The Doctor’s Appointment?

If you have had a baby in the past few days, weeks or months, the moment you experience any of the signs of postpartum preeclampsia, it is important to get in touch with your medical practitioner immediately. Here are a few pointers that will help you prepare for your appointment with your doctor and also give you an idea of what you can expect once you are there:

  • Before you go for your appointment, ask the concerned person or staff at the hospital if there are any restrictions you need to follow. In most cases of postpartum preeclampsia, your doctor will ask you to come in immediately. However, in some cases, your doctor may schedule you for a slightly later appointment if your symptoms are not alarming or warrant immediate medical attention. If you are asked to wait and come by after some time, ask the doctor if you have to be on bed rest or if there are any special precautions that you should follow.
  • Even though you may not feel too tired or uncomfortable, make sure you have someone who will come along with you for the appointment. Ask your partner, a parent, or any family member or friend to go with you once you visit the doctor for your appointment.
  • If you have some time before you visit the doctor, write down all the symptoms you have been facing and write down all the questions or queries that you may be having. You might feel that you will remember to ask everything when you meet the doctor face to face, but sometimes, being anxious and worried can cause you to forget many of the questions you wanted to know.

[ Read: Risks Of Postpartum Tubal Ligation ]

Here are a few questions you may want to get answers to from your doctor. Remember to jot them down in your diary or phone and take it along with you when you go for the appointment.

  • How serious is your condition and how can you best manage it?
  • Will your condition have any effect on your newborn baby?
  • What treatment options do you have and how and when will they be carried out?
  • Can you continue with your regular activities, such as breastfeeding your baby and other things you do with your baby and for yourself?
  • Are there any concerns of any health complications arising due to the postpartum preeclampsia or are you at a higher risk for the same? What health complications can arise and how will you get to know the same? What will be the symptoms and how can it affect you or your baby? What should you do when something like that happens?
  • Is there any particular sign or symptom that may signal an emergency and when should you go to the medical facility immediately?

Of course you should ask any other questions or queries you may have, and use the above question suggestions as a help guide.

Here are a few questions that your doctor may ask you to assess your situation better:

  • Did you have any unusual symptoms of late, such as blurring in your vision or the like? If yes, how long did the unusual symptoms last and were they present continuously or were present on and off?
  • How soon after your baby’s birth did you first notice the symptoms? When did you last experience the symptoms?
  • Do you always have high blood pressure and have you had it before you were pregnant too? Or is it a new development and you experienced the same during your pregnancy or after giving birth?
  • In case you were pregnant earlier, did you suffer from postpartum preeclampsia or preeclampsia? Had you experienced any of these unusual symptoms with your previous pregnancies or after you had given birth?
  • Did you experience any other complications in any of your earlier pregnancies?
  • Do you have any other health conditions for which you were receiving treatment at the time you were pregnant or just before you got pregnant? Do you have any health condition for which you are being treated now? Have you been placed on high alert for any health condition?
  • Do you often suffer from migraines or severe forms of headaches? If yes, what triggers them in most cases? Have you received treatment for the same and are you currently taking any medication to treat you of your migraine or a headache?

[ Read: Signs Of Migraine During Breastfeeding ]

Diagnosis And Treatment For Preeclampsia After Delivery:

In case you have just given birth and your doctor suspects that you may have postpartum preeclampsia, you will be asked to extend your stay at the hospital so that you can be given the proper medical treatment.

In the case that you have been discharged from the hospital but have developed the symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia once you have gone home with your baby, your medical team will ask you to come back to the hospital and get readmitted.

Diagnosis For Postpartum Preeclampsia:

Here are a few steps your doctor will use to diagnose you for postpartum preeclampsia:

1. Blood Tests:

Your doctor will recommend a set of blood tests that will help to check if your liver and kidneys are healthy. The tests will also help to determine whether or not your liver and kidney are functioning the way they are supposed to. The blood tests will also help to determine if the number of platelets in your blood is within the normal range. Platelets are the cells that will help your blood to clot and prevent excessive bleeding.

2. Urinalysis:

As the name suggests, urinalysis is a test in which your doctor will take a sample of your urine to test for the levels of protein that may be present in it.

[ Read: Tips To Handle Postnatal Insomnia ]

Postpartum Preeclampsia Treatment:

Here are a few treatment options that your doctor will suggest to help take care of postpartum preeclampsia. In most cases, your doctor will prescribe certain medications that will help to treat the condition in the best possible way:

1. Medication That Will Bring Down Your Blood Pressure Levels:

In most cases of postpartum preeclampsia, your blood pressure may shoot up to dangerously high levels, causing a higher risk of emergency situations. Your doctor will prescribe medications that will help to bring down your blood pressure levels to a normal range and will also help to keep them there. The type of medications that your doctor will prescribe for the same are antihypertensive medications, to counter the condition of a hypertensive disease.

2. Medication That Will Help To Prevent Or Control Any Seizures:

While you are suffering from postpartum preeclampsia, in some cases, you might also run the risk of suffering from postpartum eclampsia. It is the condition in which you will have all the signs and symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia but will also have the risk factor of suffering seizures. Your doctor will most likely put you on a dosage of some anticonvulsive medication, such as magnesium sulfate.

The anticonvulsive medications will help to prevent or bring down the threat of a seizure. In most cases, your doctor will ask you to take the magnesium sulfate medication for the duration of 24 hours. Once you have taken the medication, your doctor will observe you for various symptoms such as your blood pressure, your urine as well as other symptoms that may point towards postpartum preeclampsia.

[ Read: Types of Postpartum Infections ]

Can You Prevent Postpartum Preeclampsia?

As yet, there are no known ways in which you can prevent the occurrence of preeclampsia after childbirth.

  • Some of the best ways to try and make sure that you do not suffer from the condition is to take note of the conditions that put you at a high risk of contracting postpartum preeclampsia.
  • A healthy lifestyle can often help you achieve your goal towards keeping most health conditions at bay, especially when you are pregnant as well as after you have given birth to your baby.
  • You can try to keep your weight in check, especially if you have a tendency to gain weight fast or have noticed an increase in your weight in recent times. You can speak to your doctor about safe and effective exercising options, especially when you are pregnant. Some simple exercises that will help you stay fit and maintain a healthy weight are brisk walking, swimming, yoga, meditation, cycling and more. Your doctor will assess your overall health and recommend the best exercising option that will be suitable for you.

[ Read: Benefits Of Postnatal Exercises ]

  • Eating healthy is another way of maintaining a good weight and also of making sure that you are healthy and get all the nutrition that your body needs. Make sure that you try and include as many fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet as you can. Also, stay away from eating processed and packaged foods, mainly anything that comes ready to be eaten from a box. As a means of staying fit and healthy, you should also give up on eating fried foods as well as taking any aerated drinks. Alcohol and smoking should be a strict no, right from the time you plan to conceive or the moment you are sure that you are pregnant.

It is natural for you to feel tired and uncomfortable after you have given birth and especially in the first few weeks and months. However, it is also very important for you to keep a note of any signs and symptoms you may notice, and check if something looks or feels out of place. If you do notice something that looks amiss, do not panic. Make a note of the same and discuss it with your doctor, who will be able to guide you on the next steps. Remember that it is possible to take care of postpartum preeclampsia with the help of timely medical intervention, so keep your doctor and your family updated about any symptoms or discomfort you may have.

While it can be extremely worrisome for you to know that you have preeclampsia post delivery, make sure you take the right steps at the right time to help treat it fast.

Do you know of anyone who may have suffered from the condition of postpartum preeclampsia? What symptoms did you notice after you gave birth that seemed a little out of place and how did you deal with them? Tell us about your story here. Leave a comment in the section below. Fellow moms would love to hear your views on the subject.

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Debolina Raja

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  • Sunitha

    Has anyone experiences postpartum preclampsia? If so, could you please share your symptoms and what treatment you received? Was anything helpful? Were you told not to have more babies?