Editor’s note: The following is one mother’s story and is presented for educational purposes only. It should not be taken for medical advice. Please consult with your own healthcare provider for your pregnancy care.
At 38 weeks pregnant, I was at my older son’s baseball game when I suddenly started to come down with a migraine. It was coming on fast and strong, and I knew it was going to be one of the ones that knocked me out hard. I left the game as quickly as I could, while my pounding head continued to get worse rapidly. I took a bath to try to take the edge off when we got home, then went to bed at 8:30pm.
Two hours later, I woke up and my head was even worse. Even in the complete darkness of our condo, any small amount of light was enough to bring me to my knees in pain. At that point I knew something was off and I decided to go to the hospital. The drive downtown was awful, with the city lights causing me to crawl out of my seat the entire time in excruciating pain.
We made it to triage at 11 PM and they immediately ran labs to determine if I had preeclampsia, as I had experienced similar symptoms when pregnant with my oldest. In the initial tests my blood pressure looked relatively normal at 135/84, and at that point they didn’t seem concerned at all. They gave me something for the pain, telling me that we would wait for the labs to come back and I would likely go home later that night.
Numbers Don’t Tell The Whole Story
Four hours later my labs came back with the results: despite the fact that my blood pressure was within normal levels, I had high levels of proteinuria that indicated preeclampsia, a dangerous condition that occurs only in pregnancy.
The nurse looked at me and said, “You’re not leaving without a baby!” Her words didn’t even come as a surprise to me, because deep down, I knew that something was off.
As it would turn out, my migraine was caused by high blood pressure, and they gave me a medication to lower my blood pressure while I waited to be induced. My induction started that morning at 11 AM and I had my son at 5:50 PM. They kept me on blood pressure medication and monitored my blood pressure closely throughout the induction, but after I gave birth, my BP lowered dramatically back to my normal levels without the need for any other medication.
Lessons in Looking Back
While I am, of course, so grateful everything ended well for both me and my baby, my brush with preeclampsia definitely highlighted how important it is for women to advocate for themselves when they know something is wrong during their pregnancies. For instance, I realized that I had actually been experiencing the same symptoms during my first pregnancy. I had been in and out of the ER for weeks with debilitating migraines, and had expressed my concerns multiple times to my doctor who diminished them. My blood pressure never indicated an issue, so she did not believe that there was a reason for concern.
After yet another trip to the ER with a migraine, a different doctor made the call to keep me in the hospital for testing at 37 weeks pregnant. They kept me there for a week completing various tests, even though my own doctor said that she believed I could go home. They never once expressed concern about my blood pressure, but concerns arose due to my low platelet count (thrombocytopenia), which I now know can be connected to preeclampsia. I was never officially informed that I had preeclampsia, but at 38 weeks they began the process of inducing me due to my platelet count continuing to drop. As soon as I gave birth, my blood pressure and platelet count both began to return to normal quickly. I only learned that I had been diagnosed with preeclampsia during my first pregnancy after I became pregnant again years later with my youngest.
Here’s the thing though: because my blood pressure never went above 135/88 while they were monitoring me in the hospital, my preeclampsia never quite “looked” like preeclampsia. I had to advocate for myself to get proper testing both times, as even with my history they didn’t see the signs. It is so important for mamas to advocate for ourselves and our babies, especially when something feels off. If your doctor won’t listen to you, find one who will!
What is Preeclampsia?
As the Mayo Clinic explains, preeclampsia is a complication that can occur during pregnancy, usually after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The warning signs of preeclampsia are blood pressure that exceeds 140/90, as well as protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can lead to severe, or in some cases fatal, consequences for both mom and baby if untreated. Delivery of your baby is the only treatment for preeclampsia, but it can be managed during pregnancy.
The symptoms of preeclampsia can include things like swelling, abdominal pain, vision changes (such as seeing spots in your eyes). They may also be different for every person. For instance, the symptoms I personally experienced were:
- Migraines/severe headaches
- Edema (sudden swelling and weight gain)
- Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
- Proteinuria (excess protein in your urine)
- Vision problems, specifically light sensitivity
Other symptoms may include:
- Decrease in urine output
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
Bottom line, if you experience any symptoms or have any concerns during your own pregnancy, always speak to your own doctor and be an advocate not only for just your health, but the health of your baby too.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…