Postpartum Preeclampsia: Causes, Risks and Treatment

Postpartum Preeclampsia

Pregnancy manifests itself in various ways in women apart from its more obvious signs. Women may go through certain complications, changes in blood pressure, aches and much more. However, some complications may appear well after delivery in some women, like the postpartum preeclampsia. Understanding the reason for this condition and the ways to treat it can be essential to help you find relief from it.

What is Postpartum Preeclampsia?

Postpartum preeclampsia is similar to preeclampsia, but it develops soon after the delivery. The condition is characterized by high blood pressure and an excess amount of protein in the urine (over 300mg). In most cases this condition develops within 48 to 72 hours of delivery; however, in some cases, it may even appear at about six weeks after delivery.

Being diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia after pregnancy means that you will need to spend a few extra days in the hospital until your blood pressure is under control. Immediate treatment is required for this condition as lack of treated may result in seizures or other complications.

What Causes Postpartum Preeclampsia (PPP)?

The causes of postpartum preeclampsia aren’t well-known. It is believed that the condition may have been developing in your body all through pregnancy and only becomes evident after delivery. It is also believed that PPP may be the result of an anomaly in the lining of the blood vessels while you are pregnant and this may get affected due to certain genetic or environmental factors.

Risk Factors Associated With PPP

There are several risk factors that are associated with postpartum preeclampsia. Some of the common ones are

  • Hypertension during pregnancy is the strongest risk factor of PPP. If your blood pressure is very high around the 20th week of your pregnancy, you may be more susceptible to developing PPP.
  • Immunity disorders that may obstruct the interaction of the placenta and the immune system may lead to hypertension during pregnancy.
  • Obesity is another factor that increases your risk of developing postpartum preeclampsia.
  • If you are younger than 20 years or are older than 40, you may be at a higher risk of PPP.
  • Multiple pregnancies or carrying twins may also increase your risk of postpartum preeclampsia.
  • Family history may also play a part in causing PPP. If you have a close woman relative who has suffered from PPP, you may be at a higher risk.

Symptoms of Post Pregnancy Preeclampsia

Many symptoms associated with postpartum preeclampsia are quite similar to the symptoms of preeclampsia.

  • High blood pressure is the foremost indicator. If your blood pressure is as high as 140/90 mm Hg as opposed to the normal 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Excessive amount of protein in your urine (over 300 mg)
  • Severe headaches after childbirth that go on for a long time.
  • Sensitivity to light, blurred vision or temporary loss of vision
  • Swelling or bloating in the limbs or the face after delivery (typically within 48 hours)
  • Sharp pain in your upper abdomen.
  • Severe vomiting and nausea within 72 hours of delivery.
  • Reduction in urination
  • A sudden increase in weight; almost a kilo in a week.

Woman vomiting

How is the Diagnosis Done?

Doctors will run a regular check-up after delivery and in case they suspect PPP, they will recommend certain tests. A blood test and a urine test are the usual methods used to diagnose postpartum preeclampsia.

  1. Blood tests: A blood test is conducted check the functioning of the kidney as well as the liver. It also indicates the level platelets. Platelets are the cells that regulate blood clot and are vital in cases of excessive bleeding.
  2. Urine tests: The amount of protein in the urine is checked to determine if you have PPP. If there is over 300 mg of protein in your urine, you may have postpartum preeclampsia.

In case your diagnosis is positive, you will need to spend a few more days in the hospitals so that the doctors can monitor your blood pressure and start treatment for the condition.

Treatment and Medication

Postpartum preeclampsia management is usually done through medications. If you have a mild case of PPP, you will be administered with magnesium sulfate for about 24 hours and will be monitored closely. This is an anticonvulsive and prevents seizures. In case your blood pressure is over 150/100 you will be given anti-hypertensive medications like Labetalol, Nifedipine, Hydralazine, etc. The dosage of these medications is gradually reduced as your blood pressure begins to normalize. These medications may cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, headaches, etc.

Preventive Measures

While there are no definitive ways to prevent PPP, keeping track of your general health and adopting a healthy lifestyle can be the key to prevention. Some of the best ways to prevent the condition are

  • Since obesity increases the risk of postpartum preeclampsia, it is ideal to maintain your body weight with healthy eating habits. Add a lot of fibre in your diet through fruits and vegetables. Try and get to an ideal weight before planning for pregnancy.
  • Exercising regularly can also help to keep your weight at bay. Always keep track of your weight and in case you see a sudden increase, ensure to consult your doctor.
  • Stay well-hydrated with plenty of fluids. Drink a good amount of water and fresh fruit juices every day. Lower the consumption of sugary juices or artificial fruit juices. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
  • Visit your doctor regularly throughout your pregnancy for regular check-ups and have your blood pressure checked. Regular check-ups will help your doctor detect any early signs of postpartum preeclampsia.

Woman jogging

Complications

Postpartum preeclampsia, if left untreated, may often lead to other complications like seizures. Some of the complications of PPP include,

  • Pulmonary oedema: In this condition, fluid accumulates in the tissues and the airspace in the lungs which can be very critical. Pulmonary oedema has symptoms like excessive coughing, trouble breathing, sweating and anxiety.
  • Postpartum eclampsia: This is similar to postpartum preeclampsia but is also characterized by seizures. It may cause permanent damage to the brain and the heart, as well as lead to irreversible damage to the vessels. In very serious cases, it can also lead to coma.
  • Stroke: Although rare, sometimes there is a lack of oxygen supply to the brain due to PPP, which may lead to a stroke. Immediate medical intervention is required in case of a stroke.
  • Thromboembolism: This is caused due to a blood clot that may have developed in any part of the body but travels to the blood vessels causing a blockage. It can lead to organ failure and in serious cases may even be fatal. Blood thinners are used to treat Thromboembolism.
  • HELLP syndrome: This stands for hemolysis or destruction of red blood cells, enzyme elevated liver enzymes or liver damage, and low platelet count and can be fatal.

Living With Postpartum Preeclampsia

Childbirth will leave you physically and mentally strained on its own. Being diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia can be even more challenging at this point in time as it means a longer hospital stay. It is important to understand that you will need to cooperative with your doctor to get treated on time and prevent any further complications. Also, try and understand everything you can about the conditions to know your options. It is also necessary to reach out to your loved ones for support during this time and focus on being a doting mother to your new baby.

In case you have any questions about the condition, do not hesitate to discuss them with your doctor. Postpartum preeclampsia recovery is a process that will take place gradually with proper care and treatment.

FAQs

How Will Postpartum Preeclampsia Affect My Baby?

Preeclampsia may lead to a premature labour and delivery. There are good chances that your baby may be born before 37 weeks. If a baby is born before 32 weeks, then the baby will go through a lot of health issues as it hasn’t had the chance to develop completely.

Can I Breastfeed My Child If I Have Postpartum Preeclampsia?

You can breastfeed your baby even if you have PPP. However, the condition may lower your breast milk supply. You can speak to your doctor about this. Also, ensure to tell your doctor that you are breastfeeding when he prescribes medicines for the condition.

Are Preeclampsia And Eclampsia The Same?

Preeclampsia is when a woman has high blood pressure during pregnancy with gestation at 20 weeks. It can also increase the amount of protein in the urine.

Eclampsia is a severe type of preeclampsia and has seizures. This is a critical condition and may lead to damage to the heart, brain and even result in coma.

Can I Have Preeclampsia Without Having Protein In My Urine?

While the amount of protein in urine is one of the main indicators of PPP, recent studies have concluded that postpartum preeclampsia may even occur without an increased level of protein in the urine.

Is There Any Chance Of Getting Preeclampsia Again?

If you have had preeclampsia in your previous pregnancy, you are at a high risk of developing PPP again. But, in case your previous pregnancy was normal, your risks of PPP are relatively lower, except unless you are obese, have hypertension or have a family history of postpartum preeclampsia.

Post pregnancy time can be stressful enough even without having a complicated condition hovering over you. However, in case you are diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia, you will need to remain calm and understand that your first and foremost task is to tend to your newborn. Breastfeed your baby and enjoy the first few months of your baby’s life. Seek help from your family or friends during this time to ease your burden even after you are discharged. It is important that you regain your health back before engaging in any chores that could strain you. Ensure to communicate with your doctor about any doubts or changes that you notice in order to facilitate your treatment further.

Also Read: Postpartum Depression