While preeclampsia occurs primarily during pregnancy, postpartum preeclampsia can occur for up to six weeks after giving birth. Preeclampsia is the most common of the dangerous complications that can occur in expectant or new mothers. It can be caused by preeclampsia during pregnancy that is not resolved with the delivery of the baby or can occur seemingly out of nowhere following delivery.
Preeclampsia after delivery has several symptoms, including the new mother having blood pressure higher than 140/90 and excess protein in her urine. She may also experience issues with her vision, migraines, nausea, dizziness, sudden weight gain or severe abdominal pain. These symptoms can be typical in new mothers, which makes diagnosis of this condition difficult.
Researchers believe that insufficient blood flow to the uterus, issues with the immune system, damage to blood vessels during delivery and a poor diet are possible causes of preeclampsia after having the baby. Other possible causes are obesity, excessive stretching of the uterus and even air pollution. When preeclampsia develops during pregnancy both the mother and baby are put at risk. Only the mother is at risk with postpartum preeclampsia, yet this is considered even more dangerous for her because her body is weakened from the trauma of birth.
Postpartum preeclampsia is most dangerous to the mother within the first 48 hours after giving birth. It can result in multiple organ failure, infections and issues with blood clotting. If left untreated, it can also cause seizures and even send the mother into a coma, when it becomes eclampsia. There is also a risk of developing hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count (HELLP) syndrome, which can be life threatening to the mother. Current research also indicates that women who are diagnosed with preeclampsia, either during pregnancy or postpartum, are at greater risk of cardiovascular health issues later in life.
Women at risk for this disorder include those who were diagnosed with preeclampsia during their pregnancy, women who have given birth to multiples, women under the age of 20, women over the age of 40 and first-time moms. While preeclampsia that develops during pregnancy can only be treated by delivering the baby, postpartum preeclampsia can be treated with high blood pressure medication, anti-seizure medication, steroids, blood transfusions or even surgery. If diagnosed in time, the prognosis for the mother is very good.
Today, new mothers usually undergo a standard screening for postpartum preeclampsia before leaving the hospital after giving birth and during their six-week postpartum checkup. Doctors routinely check blood pressure and monitor swelling of the legs and feet, which is a frequent and early symptom of the problem, although swelling of these areas also is common for any new mother. Despite this monitoring, doctors encourage new mothers to report any symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia to their primary doctor the minute they are noticed. If symptoms are severe, women are encouraged to go to the emergency room immediately.