Don’t you love when someone points out to a pregnant woman that she looks “terrible”? Who do they think they are telling you that you’re swollen, puffy, look tired, or even that you look “painful”. I think people who aren’t, especially those who have never been, pregnant say these things as if it’s somehow comforting for a second or third trimester pregnant lady to be reassured that yes, you actually are pregnant. Well, guess what people; it’s not comforting! In fact, it sucks and makes us feel like crap!
I felt great during about 90 percent of my pregnancy, but I would actually get both sides of this spectrum. For a while, some people said to me that I looked too thin to be pregnant then others, who knew that I was just petite in nature, would say, wow you’re getting so big so fast! And I have to admit, I wanted to get the “belly”, I wanted to “show” and it wasn’t until about 6 months that I had a significant enough bump for strangers to notice and comment on. But I did notice that everyone loved to point out how “huge” I was getting once the real “growing” started. So when I approached the 9th month of my pregnancy, in the heat of a Carolina summer, I noticed that I actually was starting to really swell up. My feet and ankles would get very puffy, along with my hands and fingers. So I bought new shoes, asked my husband to rub my feet and kept on with life as usual. Then, people told me I looked like I was “in pain” and “puffy” and although it wasn’t the nicest comment I’d ever received, I summed this up to the heat, the baby, me not taking enough time to rest, but never Preeclampsia.
The dreaded Preeclampsia – the jerk of pregnancy! It’s the little sneak that hijacks your body, inflates you with water weight, and constricts your blood vessels so much that your kidneys can malfunction and your blood pressure soars. It beats on your head like a drum while also making you feel like you’re being spun around on a merry-go-round too fast, when all you really want to do is get off. It’s not fun and loves to make it’s appearance when you’re least expecting it, 37 weeks to 48 hours post delivery.
It’s the little sneak that hijacks your body, inflates you with water weight, and constricts your blood vessels so much that your kidneys can malfunction and your blood pressure soars. It beats on your head like a drum while also making you feel like you’re being spun around on a merry-go-round too fast, when all you really want to do is get off.
Below, I tell the story of my joyride with Preeclampsia along with signs and symptoms that should raise a red flag. So, go ahead, read about my misery…you know you want to!
I visited my OB for the typical routine checkups and towards the end, we noticed a trend…high blood pressure. Starting at about 33 weeks, they’d strap on that stupid cuff and it would read around 140/90. It wasn’t that bad (not good either), but normally my BP is very low, so that was pretty high for me. I’d also do the whole pee in a cup thing and my urine never showed signs that anything was wrong (no keytones or proteins). This continued on for weeks but with each visit, I was gaining about 5 pounds, swelling more, and my blood pressure was increasing. I knew there was something wrong; I didn’t feel like my glowing pregnant self anymore.
So, what is Preeclampsia? It’s characterized by having high blood pressure and protein in the urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy (Preclampsia Foundation). Basically, it’s like a huge, grey storm cloud that suddenly forms over your head and rains on your beautiful pregnancy parade. It is sometimes referred to as Toxemia as well.
It’s like a huge, grey storm cloud that suddenly forms over your head and rains on your beautiful pregnancy parade.
I never, ever, had the protein in my urine, but by the time I was 38 weeks, I had full blown Preeclampsia and my doctors weren’t on top of it until it was almost too late. I found out that it’s a very progressive condition that is only cured by having the baby. So, to “cure” me, I was induced and eventually had an emergency C-section because my condition kept worsening. This was not what I wanted to do and I was quite frustrated that nobody caught this along the way, but I later learned that it’s typical to not have any signs or symptoms until about 37/38 weeks. Now, ladies, if you’re reading this and you’re pregnant; don’t freak! Preeclampsia only effects about 5-8% of all pregnancies and a little (sometimes even a lot) of swelling is expected with pregnancy. Below, I am going to go through the signs and symptoms to help to distinguish between whats “normal” and what should raise a red flag about this condition.
Here are some signs and symptoms to watch for, along with my take on each symptom that I had:
1) The most obvious one – High Blood Pressure.
When I’d visit my OB, they’d strap on that stupid cuff at the beginning of each visit. Starting at about 33 weeks, my blood pressure (BP) started to get really high. By the time I was 38 weeks my BP was 190/120 and I was admitted to the hospital. My advice would be to pay close attention to the number from week to week and if it increases a little, it should be alright, but if it ever reaches 140/90 then you should talk to your doctor about it, even if they brush it off. 140/90 is the threshold between normal and “high”, so if you are reaching these numbers tune into your body closely. Because the condition is quite rare, they sometimes assume the high BP is nothing to worry about unless it’s accompanied by protein in the urine.
They also would have me lay on my left side to “bring it down”. This is a bad idea and provides a false sense of assurance. I was told that laying on your side helps the blood flow better temporarily and gives you an improved BP reading, but it does not mean the problem is fixed.
2) Protein in the Urine
Preeclampsia temporarily changes the way the kidney filters out some proteins from your blood, therefore extra protein can show up in the urine; this is a sign that you may have Preeclampsia. I never had this show up in my urine, not even once, and I think that’s why nobody at my OB’s office took me too seriously. My warning is that you don’t need to have extra proteins show up in your urine to have Preeclampsia. If you are feeling other symptoms and also have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor and if they don’t take you seriously, get a second opinion.
3) Excess Swelling
This is technically called Edema and it’s different than the typical pregnancy, swollen ankles type of thing. This is when your face, eyes, and hands feel so swollen that you might just explode. This is how I felt! And looking back, I did look terrible with a capital “t”, but because it was my first pregnancy, I thought this was just normal. By the time I was admitted to the hospital, I thought my feet were going to get stretch marks because they’d grown so large. The top of my foot almost came up over top of my sausage toes…it was weird, painful, and ugly! Absolutely no shoe fit me, not even slippers, and I had several chins at this point because my face had become so swollen (I’d post pictures, but nobody wants to see that!). If you start to feel like you’re swelling more rapidly than the pace you’d been keeping, talk to your doctor.
4) Headache and Dizziness
No matter what kind of headache it is, dull, throbbing or stabbing, if it’s accompanied with high BP and any other symptom listed above, call your OB and schedule a visit right away. This is a sign that your BP is getting too high and your body is not handling it well. Try to rest and prop up your feet, but don’t ignore this symptom. Honestly, it was the only way I knew my blood pressure was high, beside taking an actual reading, because I could feel it in my head, like a pounding headache that would not go away accompanied by dizziness.
5) Rapid Weight Gain
Up until about 34 weeks, I’d gained about 25 pounds from my pregnancy. I was doing really well, staying active and even doing some strength training. Then, at my 33 week visit, I had gained about 3 pounds, which wasn’t bad, but more than previous visits. Then I gained 5 at my next visit, then 5 again, and I ended up tacking on almost 25 extra pounds, in the last 5 weeks, due to this condition! 25 pounds in 5 weeks people! It was bad. So, again, if you experience this type of weight gain, it’s not normal. Your baby is not growing THAT much that you should pack on the pounds like this. For me, this was a huge sign of preeclampsia looking back.
There are a few other signs and symptoms that you can encounter with this condition and you can read more about them here, but it’s really important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. I also want to put out there that Preeclampsia can actually have no symptoms, in some cases, because many of the signs resemble regular pregnancy progression type things. Just pay attention to what is normal for you along your entire pregnancy and if this “normal” ever changes, ask your doctor. And if they tell you you’re fine, but you don’t feel that in your gut (no pun intended), ask another doctor. This condition can be serious and lead to seizures or even death, so please just pay attention and watch for little signs.
Who gets preeclampsia? Some people are more prone to getting this than others: this list includes, but its not limited to, women who are:
- Pregnant for the first time
- Over 40 years old
- Having multiples
- Already have a blood pressure condition
The complete list can be found here, and if you fall into one of these categories (and just because its your first pregnancy does not mean you have to freak!), know the signs and pay attention for changes as you progress.
I ended up having to be induced and put on anti-seizure medication because my blood pressure had reached the point where it was dangerous for me and the baby. My baby was fine during the entire course of this, he was happy and healthy with a very strong heartbeat and lots of movement, but it was me that was going downhill quickly. It was important to control the seizure component, because if I had a seizure, the baby could possibly suffer due to lack of oxygen. So, after 26 hours of labor and all was said and done, I had my baby boy and was on my way to being “cured” from this condition.
It did take me a few extra days in the hospital and about 3 weeks to actually completely recover, as my blood pressure stayed high and I had headaches and felt dizzy for quite a while (plus the pain from my lovely c-section). I lost that extra 30 lbs I gained towards the end of my pregnancy in about 10 days after giving birth, it was mostly water weight anyway, but losing 30 pounds felt great nonetheless!
I lost that extra 30 lbs I gained towards the end of my pregnancy in about 10 days after giving birth, it was mostly water weight anyway, but losing 30 pounds felt great nonetheless!
Well, that’s it for you – my preeclampsia story. If you think you might have symptoms, definitely call your doctor or even send me an email and I’ll be glad to talk this over with you personally. I am not qualified to give medical advice, and this article is just for awareness purposes, but I will help anyone in any way that I can.
I’ve been through it and it is not fun, but it’s important to know the signs and symptoms and how to handle something like this. Remember, preeclampsia is rare (only 5-8% of pregnancies), so don’t over analyze and pay attention to your symptoms. Most pregnant women will, thankfully, never have to go through this!
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Sara, thanks for sharing your experience, and for helping to get the word out about the symptoms of preeclampsia. I had it with my first baby . . . my son and I both survived due to excellent medical care (he’s now 17) but it was close for us, and I know very well that things could have gone otherwise. Maggie, I am so sorry for your loss.
The only thing I would add to Sara’s excellent summary is this: if you are pregnant, and you just feel terrible overall, even without being able to name a specific problem like a headache, please, please contact your doctor right away. Don’t worry about overreacting: it could save your life. I had a type of preeclampsia called HELLP syndrome that would normally produce significant abdominal or upper body pain–which I never had. I just started to feel truly awful while giving a business presentation (in a very warm room, in July). To this day I still can’t describe it very well–a little short of breath, but mostly just a feeling like my body was going to stop functioning, which was about exactly the case. Then I felt better after resting. If my doctor had not been a very careful person who ordered some blood tests, I don’t think I would be here to tell this story. Please don’t hesitate, make that call!
Katherine – I’m so thankful you made it! Gosh, that must have been very scary! A friend of mine had HELLP also and is going to soon write a WIRL about her experience. I’d love for you to as well, if you’d like.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell when you’re overreacting, especially when the OBGYN’s make comments like, “You’re pregnant, of course you’re ____ (swollen, uncomfortable, etc.)”…it makes it hard to want to tell them something just doesn’t feel “right”. But, I agree with you 100%, always tell the doctors when something feels “off”!
And just like that I learned something today! Crazy to think that someone in the wirl community was effected so greatly by pre clampsia and what a blessed that her daughter is still alive. Such a hard thing to deal with I’m sure. My heart goes out to you Maggie!
It really is wild, Eben. I love how simply sharing one story can connect and help people. I’m glad you learned something from this story.
I remember it like it was yesterday .
I know! It was not the best few weeks of my life, that’s for sure, but something VERY amazing came from it… and I’d do it again if I had to
What a great article Sara! Very informative and detailed my sister in law died of pre eclampsia and I wish she had known these things then. Her daughter was born and will be 21 this year but we should have never lost her mother knowledge is power and your article could help save a life. Thank you!
Wow, Maggie, I’m so sorry to hear about your sister in law. I truly believe if it weren’t for modern medicine, I may not have made it either. Having Preeclampsia made my pregnancy and delivery so scary! I hope this WIRL helps educate, inform, and/or save someone.