11 Warning Signs of Postpartum Preeclampsia: A Rare, Serious Condition

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Friday May 3, 2024

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Whether you’re planning to get pregnant or are already expecting a baby, you’ve probably heard of postpartum preeclampsia. For a rare condition, it’s widely discussed among doctors and expecting mothers because of its potentially life-threatening effects. Keep an eye out for these 11 warning signs you should never avoid and discover how to reduce your chances of getting this condition.

What is Postpartum Preeclampsia?

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Postpartum preeclampsia is a condition that can happen during the pregnancy postpartum period. It’s a rare but serious condition that manifests as high blood pressure after childbirth. It usually happens within 48 hours of delivery but can occur six weeks after giving birth or late in pregnancy. Severe conditions may lead to seizure, stroke and other issues if not promptly treated. 

The incidence of this condition is estimated to be around 0.3% to 2.75%, yet the exact number remains unknown since most patients present to the emergency department for care. Knowing the signs and symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia is essential to ensure you and your baby stay healthy.

What Are the Warning Signs?

Most mothers are unaware they have the condition until they see their doctor. Usual signs and symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia include:

  • High blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or higher
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Gaining two to five pounds weekly
  • Visions like flashing lights and floaters
  • Severe headaches
  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Urinating less or not at all
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of face, feet, hands or limbs
  • High levels of protein in urine

Several factors can also contribute to the development of this condition, including:

  • Hormonal fluctuations: Rapid shifts in hormone levels can affect blood pressure regulation, potentially resulting in hypertension.
  • Gestational hypertension: Women, especially those who are older individuals with a history of this type of condition, are at increased risk of having postpartum preeclampsia.

Remember that some symptoms usually occur during pregnancy, which is why it’s essential to have regular check-ups with your physician to rule out any possibilities of preeclampsia.

What Does a Postpartum Preeclampsia Headache Feel Like?

woman with preeclampsia headache

It’s normal to experience headaches, such as migraines and tension headaches, after giving birth. However, sometimes, it can be a warning sign of preeclampsia if you experience throbbing headaches and have visions of floaters and flashing lights within 48 of giving birth. This may be a rare occurrence, but its severity calls for an immediate emergency when this type of headache happens.

Postpartum preeclampsia headache is something that doesn’t get better with over-the-counter pain medication quickie. If you or a loved one is experiencing any combination of the listed symptoms, going to the emergency room is necessary.

What Makes It a Serious Condition?

Childbirth should be an exciting journey for mothers. For nine months, they’ve finally waited for the moment to hold their babies in their arms. However, this can be a challenging time for women who have postpartum preeclampsia. According to Sonia Tolani, MD via ColumbiaDoctors, “It is essential for women to speak to their physicians if they have symptoms during the start of the postpartum period as ignoring symptoms can lead to severe consequences.”

When not timely treated, it can possibly lead to:

  • Kidney issues: Persistent high blood pressure can affect kidney blood vessels, potentially leading to kidney disease.
  • Stroke: There’s an increased risk of stroke when high blood pressure reaches the blood vessels in the brain.
  • Eye problems: Hypertension can damage the retina and other eye structures, potentially leading to unclear vision or loss of vision.
  • Metabolic Diseases: High cholesterol levels, high blood sugar and obesity are all associated with high blood pressure. Diabetes can also damage the arteries in the kidneys, which may lead to kidney failure.
  • Implications for organs: Hypertension may disrupt blood flow to the heart, lungs and other organs.

How to Lower Your Preeclampsia Risk

woman eating healthy

While there’s no definitive way to prevent preeclampsia, you can take some preventive measures to help manage your risk. Here are some ways to keep you and your baby healthy:

1. Visit Your Doctor Regularly

If your physician suspects you’re at high risk for postpartum preeclampsia, they may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure. Magnesium sulfate is sometimes also prescribed for women who have severe signs and symptoms. Your physician will check your blood pressure, urine protein levels and baby’s growth throughout your pregnancy. If you had hypertension before you were pregnant, make sure to tell your doctor.

Your doctor may also recommend taking aspirin or calcium to help ease your blood pressure. They may also make certain adjustments to your diet, removing foods that are high in salt or added sugars, such as soda and caffeinated drinks, which can trigger hypertension.

2. List Your Symptoms

Avoid ignoring the signs, especially if they happen more frequently. Include detailed descriptions and any other questionable symptoms you may have. Postpartum depression, sleep deprivation and lack of knowledge of typical postpartum experiences may contribute to more easily missing indicators of preeclampsia. Remember to take prompt action if you experience them.

3. Eat Yogurt

Research shows that eating probiotic-rich sources like yogurt can reduce postpartum preeclampsia risk by lowering blood pressure. It can also help strengthen the mother’s bones and reduce the risk of rickets in the baby, in which bones become weak and porous.

4. Shed Excess Weight

Postpartum preeclampsia is more common among overweight mothers. To lower the risk of this condition, lose as much weight as possible before pregnancy. Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet to achieve a healthy weight. While it’s expected to gain some excess pounds during pregnancy, ensure that it’s not caused by eating too many sugary and salty foods.

5. Take Necessary Supplements

Studies show that eating food bars with antioxidant vitamins and L-arginine can decrease the risk of preeclampsia in high-risk women. It’s essential to discuss any dietary changes with your doctor before trying out new foods to your diet.

Stay Healthy Before and After Pregnancy

For mothers, safe delivery is a top priority. However, a severe condition like postpartum preeclampsia can suddenly get in the way of your motherhood journey. It’s never easy to face something as rare yet potentially life-threatening as this, but always remember there are ways to decrease the risk of having it.

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