Postpartum Preeclampsia

1 What is Postpartum Preeclampsia?

Postpartum preeclampsia is a rare condition that occurs when a woman has high blood pressure and excess protein in her urine soon after childbirth.

Most cases of postpartum preeclampsia develop within 48 hours of childbirth. However, postpartum preeclampsia sometimes develops up to six weeks after childbirth.

This is known as late postpartum preeclampsia. Postpartum preeclampsia requires prompt treatment.

Left untreated, postpartum preeclampsia can result in seizures and other serious complications.

2 Symptoms

Many women who experience postpartum preeclampsia show no signs or symptoms during pregnancy.

Also, you might not suspect that anything is wrong when you're focused on recovering after childbirth and caring for a newborn. Hence, it is difficult to detect on your own the presence of postpartum preeclampsia.

Signs and symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia — which are typically similar to those of preeclampsia that occurs during pregnancy — might include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) — 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg),
  • severe headaches,
  • excess protein in your urine (proteinuria),
  • changes in vision including temporary loss of vision,
  • light sensitivity or blurred vision,
  • upper abdominal pain usually under the ribs on the right side,
  • swelling of the face,
  • decreased urination,
  • nausea and vomiting,
  • sudden weight gain typically more than 2 pounds a week.

If you have the signs and symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia shortly after giving birth, it is imperative to contact your health care provider for a consultation as immediate medical care might be needed.

3 Causes

The causes of postpartum preeclampsia and preeclampsia that occurs during pregnancy aren't well-understood. 

Preeclampsia is typically cured by childbirth, it is believed that postpartum preeclampsia is triggered during pregnancy but does not cause symptoms under after delivery.

Hence, the causes of both postpartum preeclampsia and preeclampsia that occur during pregnancy still are not well-understood and is undergoing continuous studies.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Postpartum preeclampsia is usually diagnosed with lab tests.

It is important to immediate seek your health care provider once you have noticed that you have any of the signs and symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia following childbirth.

Make sure to come prepared with information which will help optimize your medical appointment as well as what you can expect for your health care provider.

First thing to do before an appointment is to ask about pre-appointment restrictions.

In most cases you will be seen immediately but if that is not the case, ask for restrictions in activities needed prior to the appointment.

It is also important that you are accompanied by a family member or a friend which can offer comfort as you are probably fearing for your condition and is anxious of what you are feeling.

Having someone with you during the appointment may help remember things that you forgot and unable to notice which can prove important in understanding your condition.

Here are some common questions to ask your health care provider in understanding postpartum preeclampsia:

  • How serious is my condition?
  • What kinds of tests do I need?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • How can I best manage other health conditions along with postpartum preeclampsia?
  • Can I continue to do my usual activities?
  • What signs or symptoms should prompt me to call you or go to the hospital?

If you have other questions not on your list, do not hesitate to ask it during the appointment.

Here are the things to expect from your doctor during the appointment:

Your health care provider will most likely complete your medical history by asking a lot of questions about your symptoms.

Such questions include:

  • Have you had any unusual symptoms lately, such as blurred vision or headaches?
  • Did you experience preeclampsia or postpartum preeclampsia with any previous pregnancies?
  • When did you first notice your signs or symptoms?
  • Do you normally have high blood pressure?
  • Do you have a history of headache or migraine?
  • Do you have any other health conditions?
  • Have you had any other complications during a previous pregnancy?

Lab tests include:

  • Blood tests: these tests can determine how well your liver and kidneys are functioning and whether your blood has a normal number of platelets — the cells that help blood clot.
  • Urinalysis: your health care provider might test a sample of your urine to see if it contains protein. If you've already been discharged from the hospital after childbirth and your health care provider suspects that you have postpartum preeclampsia, you might need to be readmitted to the hospital.

5 Treatment

Postpartum preeclampsia may be treated with different medications based on the symptoms presented.

If your blood pressure is dangerously high, your health care provider might prescribe a medication to lower your blood pressure (antihypertensive medication).

An anticonvulsive medication, such as magnesium sulfate, can help prevent seizures. Magnesium sulfate is typically taken for 24 hours. After treatment with magnesium sulfate, your health care provider will closely monitor your blood pressure, urination and other symptoms.

If you're breast-feeding, it's generally considered safe to breast-feed while taking these medications.

It is imperative to right away consult your health care provider if you have questions, confusions and other hesitations about the medications that you are supposed to take to treat this condition.

6 Prevention

Studies are still being conducted as there is still no known way to prevent postpartum preeclampsia.

Don't be afraid to contact your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about your health as you recover from childbirth.

As of this time, the best way to take care of yourself is to know the signs and symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Some alternative remedies for postpartum preeclampsia are proper nutrition and appropriate exercise. It has been suggested that increased dietary intake of fiber could prove beneficial.

It is also believed that appropriate level of exercise appropriate to a postpartum woman is a good alternative remedy since basically exercise improves circulation which in turn improves blood pressure.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Having social and emotional support from family and friends is very important in coping with postpartum preeclampsia.

As it oftentimes cause you to feel physical discomfort as well as emotional despair as you will most likely be re-admitted or would need to stay longer in the hospital to be treated instead of taking care of your newborn at home. Keep in mind that additional stress may cause further aggravation of your condition.

Hence, it is best to work in hand with your health care provider to determine how best to safely manage your condition the soonest time possible so that you can focus on your new role as a mother.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with postpartum preeclampsia.

A few factors that put a pregnant woman to postpartum preeclampsia include:

  • Obesity, the risk of postpartum preeclampsia is higher if you're obese. Family history. Having a first-degree relative — a parent or sibling — with a history of preeclampsia increases your risk of preeclampsia.
  • High blood pressure during your most recent pregnancy (hypertensive disease). You're at increased risk of postpartum preeclampsia if you developed high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy (gestational hypertension).
  • Having multiples. Having twins or more babies increases your risk of preeclampsia.
  • Age. Women who are younger than 20 or older than 40 are at increased risk of preeclampsia.

Recent studies suggest that the father's genes may play a role in an increased risk of preeclampsia.

Here are some of the complications of postpartum preeclampsia:

  • Postpartum eclampsia is essentially postpartum preeclampsia plus seizures. Postpartum eclampsia can permanently damage vital organs, including your brain, liver and kidneys. Left untreated, postpartum eclampsia can cause coma. In some cases, the condition is fatal.
  • Thromboembolism, is the blockage of a blood vessel by a blood clot that travels from another part of the body. This condition is also a medical emergency. HELLP syndrome. HELLP syndrome — which stands for hemolysis (the destruction of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count — can be life-threatening. As with preeclampsia, postpartum preeclampsia might also increase your risk of future cardiovascular disease.
  • Pulmonary edema, this life-threatening lung condition occurs when excess fluid develops in the lungs. Stroke. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and food. A stroke is a medical emergency.