Childbirth is a beautiful occasion. You get to welcome a precious life into the world, nurture it, and watch your baby grow. Your body changes when you become pregnant — and after your baby is born, it begins to change back. Conditions might form during this process that can be life-threatening to you if not recognized and treated quickly.
On rare occasions, thought to range from about 1–27% of new mothers, a condition called postpartum preeclampsia can develop. Doctors are unsure how the condition forms, but it has to do with high blood pressure.
What is postpartum preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs during pregnancy. Postpartum preeclampsia occurs after a baby is born, within six weeks of childbirth. The cause of the condition is not very well understood, but it is accompanied by high blood pressure and headaches.
Some symptoms you might experience if you have postpartum preeclampsia are:
- Changes in vision
- Severe headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Upper abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swelling in your hands or face
What causes postpartum preeclampsia is unknown. It sometimes occurs in mothers who experienced high blood pressure while pregnant, and other times it happens to mothers who didn't. However, it is known that high blood pressure is an indication of the condition. Doctors believe that diet, weight, and lack of exercise are some of the factors that can put you at risk.
Who can get postpartum preeclampsia
Since the condition's cause is not known, it is difficult for doctors to predict who can get it. If you're at risk for the factors mentioned previously, there is a chance that you could develop the condition.
Diagnosis for postpartum preeclampsia
The condition might develop while you and your baby are still in the hospital after birth. However, it can take up to six weeks to develop, so if you're experiencing the symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately.
To diagnose the condition, doctors take your blood pressure and take some blood samples. If your blood pressure is greater than 140/90 mmHg, your blood pressure is high. You’ll also give a urine sample, in which doctors look for excess protein in your urine, which is an indicator of preeclampsia.
Treatments for postpartum preeclampsia
Postpartum preeclampsia is related to high blood pressure, so doctors focus on treating it. They also worry about seizures because the condition can turn into postpartum eclampsia, which is characterized by seizures with high blood pressure after childbirth.
If the doctor diagnoses postpartum preeclampsia, they’ll want to lower your blood pressure with medication. They’ll also give you medicine, such as magnesium sulfate, to prevent seizures. You might receive medication to reduce the pain from your headaches.
There are many different types of medication to treat blood pressure. Depending on your body chemistry and what the doctor thinks will help, they might give you any of the following
- ACE inhibitors
- Alpha blockers
- Calcium channel blockers
- Alpha-2 receptor agonists
- Blood thinners, such as Apixaban
Diet and self-care can have a significant effect on your health after childbirth, as well as during your pregnancy. It's thought that lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of postpartum preeclampsia also. Exercise is essential because activity gets your heart rate up and can help increase your metabolism while lowering your blood pressure.
Sleep is necessary for your body to recover from the stresses of having a baby. The pressure you’ve been under is not just from the physical exertion of labor, but the entire pregnancy period. Sleep deprivation and disruption are associated with preeclampsia.
Get outside in the sun, rest, and decompress when you can. The first year of a baby’s life is taxing on parents, so you need to try to relax as much as possible to alleviate stress, which can help reduce your blood pressure. Stress is associated with a higher risk of preeclampsia.
Studies have shown that prenatal vitamins are essential after your baby is born. The folic acid present in these vitamins can help lower the risk of hypertension and preeclampsia. Talk to your doctor about postnatal vitamins and folic acid and see if it might be something to consider.
Possible complications and risks
If your postpartum preeclampsia is left untreated, severe complications can occur. These include:
HELLP syndrome is another life-threatening condition that is not well understood. It presents with the same symptoms as postpartum preeclampsia. Still, it includes more issues that make it hard to diagnose the condition.
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