A common complication of pregnancy is high blood pressure. When it occurs in the second half of pregnancy and is associated with protein in your urine, it is called pre-eclampsia.
About 10 percent of women will get pre-eclampsia and it is most common in your first pregnancy, or in a first pregnancy with a new partner. Nobody knows the exact reason why some women get this form of high blood pressure in pregnancy.
The majority of women with pre-eclampsia do not feel sick or unwell and often the only sign is increasing blood pressure and the presence of increasing amounts of protein on urine testing.
Swelling of your feet and hands (oedema) was once considered a sign of pre-eclampsia, but is recognised now to be very normal in pregnancy and does not on its own imply that you have pre-eclampsia.
By measuring your blood pressure and testing your urine each visit, your doctor or midwife will recognise the early signs of pre-eclampsia. Early recognition and treatment, where appropriate, will generally result in both you and your baby doing well.
Treatment might be as simple as a short period of hospitalisation to monitor your blood pressure changes. Alternatively, you might need lengthier periods of hospitalisation and medication, to stabilise your blood pressure and allow time for your baby to grow and mature before being born.
Pre-eclampsia in its more severe form can result in a reduced blood flow to your baby's placenta (affecting your baby's growth) and may temporarily affect the functioning of your kidneys, liver and blood system. Although very rare these days, eclampsia, which is marked by convulsions or fitting, can develop from pre-eclampsia.
Unfortunately, the only "cure" for severe pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby (regardless of gestation). Thankfully, most women will not experience the extreme end of this complication.
By Kate Dyer