Thirsty-six-weeks pregnant Halima Aliyu, accompanied by her mother, went for her routine antenatal check-up. She had a lingering headache from the previous night and thought nothing of it. Unknown to her, there was more to her headache than she thought, she was diagnosed with preeclampsia.
Halima’s blood pressure was reading 170/100 and the doctor looked visibly worried. In a matter of minutes, it rose to 180/120. Within seconds her body started to swell.
“All my body was swollen,” Halima said, “my mum was crying, everything was happening so fast. They said I had preeclampsia and that they were booking me for a caesarean section immediately.”
It was her first pregnancy. She recalled being scared and fighting hard not to panic as the doctors informed her that she was to be operated upon. Her blood pressure had hit 200/170 by the time she made it to the surgical ward.
“I called my husband and told him to bring my hospital bag. They were giving me so many painful injections, trying to bring down my blood pressure before operating on me.”
Her blood pressure started to drop, still, Halima felt like she had grown to twice her size. Her feet, face and hands had swollen and she was in pain. She could hear how fast her heart was beating against her chest.
“I felt like my heart was going to burst. My head was aching, everywhere was hurting. I started praying to Allah to save me and my baby,” she said, shuddering as she recalled the incident.
Preeclampsia is a dangerous complication that usually occurs in pregnancies that are 20 weeks and above. In rare cases, some women may experience it earlier than 20 weeks.
It is usually determined by the presence of high protein levels in the mother’s urine, and very high blood pressure. In its advanced stage, it is called eclampsia and results in seizures, and partial stroke.
According to Dr. Yusuf Habib, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, preeclampsia is one of the hypertensive disorders that occur in pregnant women.
He said some of the symptoms are incessant and throbbing headaches, swelling of the face and feet, unexplained and sudden weight gain and pain in the upper right abdomen but sometimes, there may be no physical symptoms.
Dr. Habib added that the most distinguishing symptoms are: a blood pressure that is 140/90 or higher and clinical tests showing an elevated level of proteins in the mother’s urine.
Why does Preeclampsia occur?
“The complication can happen to anyone, and in fact, there is no known reason why it happens,” Dr. Habib said.
However, he said some factors that could predispose one to preeclampsia include: first pregnancies, late pregnancies, pregnancies that are conceived in less than two years or more than 10 years after previous pregnancy.
“Women carrying twins or triplets are also at risk. There is also the hereditary factor because it runs in the family. So, if a woman’s mother or aunt had it, she might have it as well. And also, if a woman has a history of preeclampsia, chances are she might have it again in subsequent pregnancies,” he added.
Medical experts say the remedy for preeclampsia, once diagnosed, is immediate delivery of the child. Where the child is below 36 weeks or underdeveloped, doctors may attempt to manage the condition through regulation of the blood pressure and sometimes, administration of steroids to help the baby’s lungs develop quickly so that it may breathe outside the womb of its mother.
Preeclampsia could also cause complications for mothers and babies.
Halima was finally delivered of her baby girl, but all was not well with both mother and daughter. Her daughter was born underweight and with jaundice. The baby was immediately transported to neo-natal care, while the mother tried to recover from the surgery and her ordeal.
“I couldn’t see for two days. It was only on the second day that I started to see silhouettes of people. For two days I was on my bed, blind, unable to feed myself or my baby,” Halima narrated.
She spent the next few weeks in the hospital, watching over her baby.
“Her jaundice was very bad. It was terrible, but we thank God that everything is fine now. The doctor said we were lucky,” Halima told Daily Trust, cuddling her baby in her arms.
“Everything is fine now, but my blood pressure is still fluctuating. But today, my blood pressure is 120/80 and I am grateful. I could have died, my baby could have died, but we thank Allah.
“I want women to know that there is a thing called Preeclampsia, and that it can kill. So pregnant women should be very watchful and go to the hospital if they notice anything,” Halima concluded. Her daughter is now four months old, and healthy.
Dr. Habib said it was normal for preeclampsia patients to have blurred vision or temporary loss of sight but that it usually resolves itself after the baby has been delivered.
He said, “Mismanaged preeclampsia will become eclampsia and lead to a number of complications, including injury to the kidneys and liver, placenta abruption (breaking away of the placenta from the uterus), convulsions, stroke and even death of the child or mother or both.”
The gynaecologist said ultimately, delivery remains the most effective way to remedy preeclampsia or eclampsia. He said symptoms would subside between 48 hours to six weeks after delivery. Barring all other complications, blood pressure will also return to normal, he added.
Dr. Habib advised that women take their prenatal care very seriously.
He said, “We advise women to come in for what we call ‘pre- conception check-up’, where we run tests and check women for any diseases they may be predisposed to or any complications they may be predisposed to before they conceive. That way, we can prescribe some supplements that may help women prevent complications such as this.”
He also advised women to always follow their doctors’ advice and check their blood pressure regularly while pregnant.