Preeclampsia toxaemia (PET) is a pregnancy disorder or complication. It is characterized by high blood pressure, and a high amount of protein in the urine.
It is also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) or toxemia. For now, the only cure for preeclampsia is the delivery of your baby, the condition has to be managed properly throughout pregnancy till you put to bed or till when labor can be induced.
Induced labour can only be carried out when the baby is developed enough to survive outside the womb or is only premature minimally. This should be at the 37th week of pregnancy or above.
This condition, preeclampsia is caused by the abnormal formation of blood vessels in the placenta. It is also caused by abnormally implanted placenta, this leads to placental perfusion and poor uterine perfusion.
This leads to increased oxidative stress, hypoxia, release of inflammatory mediators into the plasma of the mother and also the release of anti-angiogenic proteins into the plasma also.
A great consequence of these events is endothelial dysfunction, thus results in high blood pressure, and other diseases and complications that accompany preeclampsia. There are other causes but this is the most common reason. It is mostly diagnosed before delivery and it rarely happens after delivery.
It affects 2 to 8 percent of pregnant women worldwide and it is one of the most common causes of death due to pregnancy. In 2015, preeclampsia claimed the lives of 46, 900 women.
Women who have had preeclampsia are said to have an increased risk of stroke and heart disease later in life. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine was the first to describe this condition in the fifth century, eclampsia is gotten from the Greek word and it means “lighting”.
It usually starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy and it can lead to severe health complications if not properly treated. In women with severe diseases, preeclampsia can lead to breakdown of red blood cells, low platelet count, kidney dysfunction, impaired functions of the liver, visual problems, accumulation of fluid in the lungs can lead to swellings and shortness of breath.
This condition puts the life of baby and mother at risk; it can result to seizures and this is when it is named eclampsia. Pregnant women are routinely screened for preeclampsia during pre-natal care, this has helped to reduce casualty and it aids prompt treatment.
Causes of Preeclampsia
The main cause of preeclampsia is not yet known but they are many factors believed to play a role in this condition and some of them are:
- Abnormal formation and development of the placenta, this is known as “abnormal placentation”.
- Environmental factors like air pollution, exposure to toxins, and so on
- Immunologic factors
- Damage to the blood vessels
- Dietary factors like calcium deficiency
- Pre-existing health problems like obesity, high blood pressure, anti-phospholipid antibody syndrome, etc.
- History of preeclampsia
- Placental injury
- Problems with the immune system
- Oxidative stress
- Endothelial cell injury
- Insufficient flow of blood to the uterus
- Genetics and certain genes can cause this
Risk Factors for Preeclampsia
Conditions that can increase the risk of Preeclampsia in pregnant women are:
- Chronic hypertension
- Multiple pregnancies
- If you have never given birth
- New paternity
- If you have donated a kidney
- Diabetes mellitus
- Kidney disease
- Abnormalities of placenta like placental ischemia
- Race; black women are at increased risk of preeclampsia than white, Asian and Hispanic women.
- If you have a history of preeclampsia and other medical conditions like diabetes, chronic hypertension, migraines, blood clots or lupus, and kidney disease.
- Gestational diabetes
- Intervals between pregnancies can cause this; too little spacing (less than two years apart) and a large spacing (more than ten years apart) increase the risk of preeclampsia.
- First pregnancy and the risk goes higher if it is twins
- Advanced age of the mother, the risk goes higher if the mother is above 35 years of age and if the mother is less than 20 years
- In vitro fertilization increases your risk of preeclampsia.
Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia
- Unusual swellings in the face, feet, and arms, this is known as pitting edema. This leaves an indentation on the swollen skin when pressed on. This should not be ignored but it should be reported to your doctor immediately.
- Sudden weight gain, though this is not a reliable sign of preeclampsia since a lot of women gain weight during pregnancy.
- Abdominal pain, usually on the upper side and under your ribs on the right side of your body
- Excess protein in the urine
- Change in reflexes
- Convulsions in pregnancy
- Vomiting and nausea
- Kidney problems
- Epigastric pain which is most times confused as heartburn
- Little production of urine
- Temporary loss of vision, sensitivity to light, blurred vision and other vision changes.
- Low levels of platelets
- Severe headaches
- Shortness of breath, this is usually caused by accumulation of fluids in the lungs
These symptoms can still linger for one to six weeks after delivery.
Health Complications of preeclampsia
Severe preeclampsia is very dangerous for the mother and child, the earlier it occurs during pregnancy also poses a great health risk for both mother and child. Preeclampsia most times requires induced labour and delivery.
Cesarean delivery may be necessary in some cases especially if there are obstetric or clinical conditions that need speedy delivery. Some health complications caused by preeclampsia are:
Eclampsia: When preeclampsia is not well treated or controlled, it leads to eclampsia. This condition is characterized by preeclampsia and seizures.
There are no warning signs and symptoms before it changes into eclampsia, and this condition is life-threatening for both mother and child and that is why speedy delivery becomes necessary irrespective of how old the pregnancy is, this is done to save the life of the mother and baby.
Preterm birth: Severe preeclampsia requires early delivery, this is done to save the life of the mother and baby.
Cardiovascular disease: Preeclampsia increases your risk of heart disease and blood vessel disease; this can show up later in your life and the risk is even doubled if you had preeclampsia more than once or if you’ve heard preterm labour.
You can reduce your risk for these diseases after delivery by watching your weight, eat healthy foods including lots of fruits and vegetables, don’t smoke or expose yourself to second-hand smoke and exercise regularly.
Placental abruption: Your risk of placental abruption goes high if you have preeclampsia; in this condition, there is a separation of the placenta from the inner wall of your uterus before delivery.
This can be life-threatening for both the baby and you and severe abruption of the placenta can lead to heavy bleeding. This is one of the causes of still birth.
Organ damage: Preeclampsia causes organ damage, the amount of damage or injuries done to your organ depends on the severity of this condition preeclampsia. Uncontrolled preeclampsia can lead to lung injury leading to difficulty breathing due to accumulation of water or fluids in the lungs. It can also cause kidney damage, liver, eyes, heart and brain injury leading to a stroke in some cases.
Fetal growth restriction: The blood vessels (arteries) carrying blood into the placenta is usually affected in preeclampsia. This leads to slow growth and development of the fetus (this is known as fetal growth restriction).
This also leads to a low birth weight or even preterm birth. All these happen because the placenta doesn’t get enough blood, this, in turn, prevents the fetus from getting sufficient blood, oxygen and nutrients.
HELLP syndrome: This acronym stands for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count. Hemolysis is the destruction of red blood cells. This condition is a more severe form of preeclampsia and it rapidly becomes life-threatening for both you and your baby.
Symptoms of this syndrome are: headaches, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain which usually occur on the upper right side. In some cases, HELLP can develop suddenly, with or without showing any symptoms at all; it can even develop before high blood pressure is detected in the woman.
How to Prevent Preeclampsia?
- Increase your intake of calcium because a low level of calcium in the body increases the risk of preeclampsia.
- Treat previous blood pressure
- Increase your intake of magnesium, it prevents preeclampsia in those with serious diseases
- Eat healthy and balanced diet; increase your intake of antioxidants through the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables during pregnancy.
- Eat foods rich in selenium because a low level of selenium has been linked with a higher incidence of preeclampsia.
- Quit smoking because it increases the risk of preeclampsia and also don’t expose yourself to second-hand smoke.
- Drink a lot of water daily; this will prevent dehydration which is one of the risk factors for preeclampsia.
- Don’t eat lots of junks and fried foods
- Get quality rest and sleep during pregnancy
- Avoid alcohol when you are pregnant
- Also avoid caffeinated beverages and drinks
- Get a good exposure to sunlight because studies have linked vitamin D deficiency also known as light deficiency to preeclampsia.
- Make sure you maintain your blood pressure.
Are there Natural Remedies for Preeclampsia?
Yes, there are natural remedies for this condition. They help by fighting nutritional deficiencies that can give way to this condition, they also relieve stress and symptoms of preeclampsia. Some effective natural remedies for preeclampsia are:
Sunlight: Studies have shown that spending at least 20 minutes in sunlight every day is beneficial for pregnant women. It treats preeclampsia naturally and effectively without any side effect. It increases the levels of vitamin D in your body and it also boosts the absorption of vitamin D from foods. Other natural rich sources of vitamin D are organic poultry and eggs, and fermented cod liver oil.
Vitamin A: Increase your level of vitamin A through increased intake of fruits and vegetables because vitamin A reduces the risks of preeclampsia.
Vitamin C: The FDA estimates that 85 mg of vitamin C daily is safe for pregnant women because it is reported that a high level of vitamin is not safe for pregnant women especially during the first trimester of pregnancy. A moderate level of vitamin C is good for pregnant women, it promotes and ensures a healthy growth and development of the baby.
Vitamin C reduces the risk of preeclampsia by increasing the circulation of blood all-round the body and it helps prevents swellings in the legs and feet. Natural sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, red peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, strawberries and dark green vegetables.
Protein: Increase your intake of protein, pregnant women are supposed to eat 80 to 120 grams of protein daily; protein contains amino acids that help in the formation of blood. It also improves the general health of the child and mother. It prevents excess swellings, and stops fluid from leaking into some surrounding tissues from the blood vessels. Consume lots of protein and high quality salt to prevent retention of fluid during pregnancy.
Vitamin E: This essential vitamin plays a critical role in preventing preeclampsia during pregnancy. It helps boosts the circulation of blood and it prevents swellings. Many studies have shown that there is a link between a deficiency in vitamin E and preeclampsia and this deficiency increases the risk of preeclampsia.
The National Institute of Health recommends 15 mg of vitamin E daily for pregnant women; rich sources of vitamin E are wheat germ, corn, almonds, fish and green leafy vegetables.
Dark chocolate: A 2010 study showed that dark chocolate helped lowered high blood pressure in pregnant women. It must be dark chocolate (that is from 70% and above) for it to be very effective.
Potassium: Potassium is an important electrolyte needed by the body, it boosts electrical signals throughout your body and this helps your body function very well.
Potassium combats swelling in pregnant women but it must be combined with magnesium, sodium and other electrolytes for it to be very effective, that is why a healthy and a balanced diet is very important during pregnancy.
Increase your intake of potassium and other electrolyte by eating healthy foods during pregnancy, foods rich in potassium are bananas, lima beans, fish, tomatoes, chicken, avocados, organic red meat, and others.
High Quality Salt: High quality salt and not these refined tables salt help keep you hydrated, combining this with high intake of protein will keep your blood pressure normal and reduce your risks of preeclampsia. Do not use bleached salt or common tables salt for this because you can get the opposite effect.
Quit Smoking: Smoking puts the life of the mother and baby at risk and one of the health risks of smoking in pregnant women is preeclampsia, even if you don’t smoke, exposing yourself to second-hand smoke increases your risks of preeclampsia.
Smoking or exposing yourself to second-hand smoke increases your blood pressure, weakens your immune system, and makes you sick and weak all through your pregnancy.
Quit smoking if you do or do not expose yourself to second-hand smoke if you want to reduce your risk of preeclampsia, you will be able to maintain your blood pressure easily and your baby’s growth and development will be healthy.
Smoking and exposing yourself to second-hand smoke impairs the growth of the embryo, and causes other damages.
Tart Cherry Juice: A 2016 study showed that tart cherry juice helps in increasing the levels of melatonin, studies have linked a low level of melatonin to preeclampsia. A low level of melatonin leads to sleeplessness and sleep disorders, this can affect the metabolism of a pregnant woman and thereby pave a way for preeclampsia to set in.
Regular intake tart cherry juice during pregnancy helps pregnant women sleep longer by increasing the levels of melatonin in the body and this, in turn, reduces the risks of preeclampsia.
It is estimated that tart cherry juice contains the highest levels of melatonin in natural foods. Include it regularly in your diet and it will lower your risk of preeclampsia.
Massage and Acupuncture: Massage helps relieve stress and it is one of the most wonderful home remedies for preeclampsia. You can make use of essential oils like lavender to relieve stress and tensions fast. Head massage is one of the most effective types of massage for treating preeclampsia at home.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that heals a lot of health problems, it improves the circulation of blood all-round the body, and it also reduces high blood pressure. Make sure you meet a trained acupuncturist because those needles need to be used on typical points on the hands and feet.
Carrot Juice: This is one of the best remedies for preeclampsia, it relieves the symptoms of preeclampsia and increases the levels of antioxidants, this helps in fighting and preventing preeclampsia. You can also eat carrot raw or use them in making soups, just make sure you increase your intake of carrot if you are at risk of preeclampsia.
Fiber: Fiber reduces your risks of preeclampsia by reducing high blood pressure. This remedy is very effective even for pregnant women who already have hypertension. Fiber in the diet is compulsory for pregnant women because it makes the whole period smooth for you.
It reduces the risks of having complications during pregnancy. Include a lot of fiber in your diet to lower your risks of preeclampsia or treat hypertension in case you already have.
Water: Regular intake of water prevents dehydration, one of the risk factors for preeclampsia. Dehydration poses a great threat to the life of the mother and child. It leads to severe preeclampsia.
Drink lots of water daily and you can also increase intake of healthy fluids when pregnant to help you avoid dehydration. These include herbal teas, homemade fruit juices, coconut milk, coconut water, smoothies and broths made with bones or vegetables.
Lemons: Lemon is a very effective natural remedy for preeclampsia, it helps pregnant women manage this condition effectively and research has shown that it has a positive effect on preeclampsia in a short time.
You can take lemon juice or water daily.
Engage in sexual activities: Some studies suggest that semen helps reduce the symptoms of preeclampsia. It also helps strengthen the growing fetus by exposing it to foreign antigens, this helps it build up tolerance and prevent preeclampsia also. Sex is also believed to be a great remedy for pains, stress and aches and pregnant women can benefit from this.
Garlic: Garlic is one of the best natural remedies for hypertension, it both treats hypertension and reduces the risks of preeclampsia. It boosts the formation of hydrogen sulfide and nitric oxide in the body.
These compounds help protect the blood vessels, it relaxes them and prevents preeclampsia by controlling blood pressure. You can add it to your meals or you swallow it raw. You can use garlic powder, add a teaspoon to a glass of warm water and drink. Those on blood pressure medications should avoid garlic.
Salty Baths: This help increase the levels of magnesium in the body, taking baths with Epsom salt in water or soaking self in such water help relieve stress, fatigue, aches and reduces the risk of preeclampsia.
It relaxes you and reduces the risks of preeclampsia. You can’t get enough magnesium from foods, so soaking yourself in Epsom salt will help you. Add half cup of Epsom salt to your regular bath water and soak in it for at least 20 minutes.
Do this at least once daily, rich sources of magnesium are nuts and seeds, beans, green leafy vegetables, avocados, lentils, fish, and beans.
Ginger: It boosts circulation of blood all round your body and most especially to the placenta during pregnancy. It relieves joint pains and stop inflammation, it stops swellings around the joints and improves your overall health.
Take Ginger tea every day or three times daily if the preeclampsia is severe. You make use of fresh ginger root or the powder, you can also add it generously to your meals because ginger is a wonderful spice.
Selenium: This vital mineral fights oxidative stress which is one of the risk factor of oxidative stress. It also treats the symptoms of preeclampsia.
Eat foods rich in selenium and you can meet a doctor to prescribe a good supplement for you if you have severe preeclampsia. Rich sources of selenium are organic meat, fish, nuts and seeds, and cereals.
Beets: Drink lots of homemade and unsweetened beet juice, they have an immediate effect on blood pressure, it brings high blood pressure down fast. It is also a very rich source of calcium and deficiency in calcium has been linked to preeclampsia.
It also balances the levels of calcium and potassium. Include beets regularly in your diet or you try and drink at least three cups of fresh beet juice daily, unsweetened.
L-Arginine: This nutrient protects the blood vessels and prevents hypertension. It decreases blood viscosity and protects the endothelium of the blood vessels. 3000 mg a day will help prevent high blood pressure.
Oat Straw: These are straw made from oats, they control excess swelling in pregnant women and it is a good remedy for the prevention of preeclampsia. The best way to take oat straw is by drinking its tea. It has a lot of beneficial nutrients like magnesium, vitamin B, protein, and others that help prevent preeclampsia.
It is very effective in relieving the symptoms of preeclampsia. Take the tea at least once daily but you can take more especially if the preeclampsia is severe.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid and Chromium: These two supplements help you fight insulin resistance, a risk factor for preeclampsia. They regulate the concentration of sugar in the blood stream.