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Why preeclampsia is pregnancy should not go undiagnosed

Victor Lewin - Monday, May 18, 2015

When a woman is pregnant, her body undergoes many changes. This makes it difficult to discern whether any changes are simply related to the pregnancy or a sign of something far more ominous.

One of the dangers of pregnancy is preeclampsia. Below are some symptoms and signs that may indicate the presence of this potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication:

-- Proteinuria. When proteins in the blood aren't properly filtered by the kidneys, they flow instead into urine when preeclampsia causes temporary damage. Prenatal screenings to detect proteinuria should be done on the urine at every visit.

-- High blood pressure. Most people can't feel this "silent killer," which makes it even more insidious. Regular prenatal checkups can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, or hypertension.

-- Edema. Most pregnant women will experience a degree of swelling, most likely in their lower extremities. However, excessive swelling, particularly in the facial area, around the eyes and in the hands, can be a danger sign you should never ignore.

-- Lower back pain. Another common symptom during pregnancy, when accompanied by other signs of preeclampsia, it can be indicative of liver failure.

-- Headache. While everyone has the occasional headache, pregnant women should seek medical attention if they suddenly experience migraine-like head pain.

-- Abdominal or shoulder pain. Right upper quadrant pain, or sharp pain on the right shoulder can be indicative of HELLP syndrome. Related to preeclampsia, the letters in the name stand for hemolysis (red blood cells breaking down), elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count.

This list is not all-inclusive. Any unusual signs should be discussed with your obstetrician. Failing to diagnose preeclampsia puts both the mother and baby at risk of severe complications and even death. Those who survive, or their next of kin in fatal cases, may be able to file a claim for malpractice against the obstetrician.

Source: Preeclampsia Foundation, "Signs & Symptoms," accessed May 15, 2015

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