Preeclampsia After Delivery: It Can Kill You

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blood pressure cuff
My lifeline: a home BP cuff from Walgreens
If your doctor is like mine, your blood pressure and pee were monitored all through your pregnancy to be sure you weren’t preeclamptic. It’s one of those things, like our weight and the baby’s kicks, that we’re trained to keep an eye on. The general wisdom is that the risk ends with delivery, but as I found out, that’s not always true: preeclampsia can turn up after delivery, too. And when it’s missed, the mom is at much higher risk for seizures and death.

Do I have your attention? Good.

Preeclampsia, as you probably know, is a condition in which a pregnant woman’s blood pressure rises so high that she’s at imminent risk for seizure. “Eclampsia” means seizure; preeclampsia means you’re dangerously close to that state. Symptoms include weird headaches that won’t go away, blurred vision, and protein in the urine; you’re considered at-risk if you’re overweight or of “advanced maternal age,” but absolutely everyone’s vulnerable – I know women who are as healthy as a horse who ended up with it.

The good news is that if you’re getting good prenatal care, you’re going to be monitored for preeclampsia. The bad news is that you’re still at risk after you deliver – and most people don’t realize that.

According to Laney Poye of The Preeclampsia Foundation, preeclampsia affects five to eight percent of pregnancies, or one out of every twelve. “The effects can be as mild as some high blood pressure that requires monitoring, and as severe as the death of the mother and/or child,” she says. As for cases that occur after delivery, they're only 5.7% of preeclampsia cases. It's really rare. But when I went public with my case of pre-e after delivery, I immediately found 3 people who'd also had it.

But beyond these numbers, we just don’t know jack-squat about this frightening disease. Why do we get it? Dunno. It has to do with blood not flowing properly from the placenta to the fetus, but beyond that, who knows. Is there screening for it? Nope. Are there supplements that can prevent it? Not that have been scientifically proven, though many swear by magnesium and calcium.

In my case, my first pregnancy ended early and in an emergency situation, so my regular gynecologist asked to see me a couple weeks afterwards just so he could check in – and a routine blood-pressure check showed I was so close to stroke, he wouldn’t allow me to drive myself to the hospital. Toward the end of my second (full-term) pregnancy, my blood pressure was creeping up, but I never went fully preeclamptic. But I was spooked by my earlier experience, so I used my home blood-pressure cuff to monitor myself when I got home – and another scary spike sent me back into the hospital for a nightmarish two days of being hooked up to IVs while we scrambled for someone to care for our toddler. (My husband was required to stay with me in the hospital to take care of our newborn in case I had a seizure. Seriously. I mean, it was horrible.)

I told my tale to Laney, who gave a sympathetic chuckle and affirmed what I thought: it’s up to each of us to watch her own symptoms and advocate for our care. “Don’t take no or ‘you’ll be alright’ for an answer if you’re worried something is wrong,” she says. “Trust in that women’s intuition; it’s real.

Bottom line: your best line of defense is to be aware of the signs and symptoms, take your own blood pressure, and holler like hell on your own behalf. Because as horrible as those nightmarish days in the hospital were for me, they sure beat dropping dead and leaving my two daughters without a mom. Nuff said?

Do you know someone who got pre-eclampsia after delivery? Tell us in the comments!


Image via Walgreens

postpartum recovery

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purpl... purplemoosemom

I was pre-eclamptic my 3rd pregnancy.  Delivered at 31 1/2 weeks.  She was born on a Sunday, I was discharged on a Wednesday, and re-admitted on Thursday.  I had a high fever (due to an infection unrelated in my heart), a massive headache, and sky high blood pressure.  My local ER tried to send me HOME doped up on pain meds, but DH decided to take me to the hossy where we had delivered and my OB was, along w/our dd in NICU.  For the hour drive up, I was literally passed out in the seat.  We got there, dh put me in a wheel chair and I started vomitting while he parked the car.  We went into my OB's office and the immediately admitted me.  Within 1/2 hour of being admitted, I seized and ended up spending 4 days on life support and 3 more weeks in the hospital.  All thanks to pre-e and endocarditis, the infection in my heart.  That was the ONLY incident of pre-e I've had and I've had 5 babies.  My doctor told me I was her 'scariest' patient and that although she likes me, she didn't want me back.  HA-I came back for #4, had my tubes cut tied and burned after that one, and was promptly back a year later, pregnant with #5. 

purpl... purplemoosemom

BTW, I'm really glad you posted this.  I don't think very many women realize that pre-e can stay in your system for as long as it can.  My perinatiogist said it can linger for up to 6 MONTHS.  Thank God I was already seeing a high risk OB who was able to save my life :) 

LoriA... LoriAnn87

I had developed pre e when I was 32 weeks and was admitted in the hosptial the day after thanksgivign. My pressure when ok but the protien my unrie the count kept going up. By 34 weeks it go so bad they decide to deliver my son by c section. After I had my son I was put on meds to help bring down my blood presure and I had to stay a extra week becasue my pressure still wasn't down. I was on meds and had to check my pressure everyday and finally after a year after my son my pressure finally went back to normal but I still have to check it. The way I knew I had pre e was the protien in my urine, swollen hands and feet and high blood pressure I had no other signs. Whenever me and my husband do have another I will consider high risk and watch very closey.

Jesse... JessecaLynn

I never had high blood pressure before I had children.  With my twins I started to get it towards the end and was induced at 37 weeks.  After the twins were born it went back to normal.  With my youngest my blood pressure started to creep up at 28 weeks and I was put on medicine.  At 36 weeks it started to creep up again, and I started to leak protein.  They were able to hold me out until 39 weeks.   2 1/2 years later I am still on blood pressure medicine. :(

ourliss ourliss

I was NOT pre-eclamptic my entire pregnancy... I DID develop eclampsia 2 days AFTER delivering. Blood levels and blood pressure went wonky, had 2 seizures. And if you've ever had a seizure on a maternity floor, they basically treat you like a side show for the rest of your stay there. It took a doctor shouting "anybody not essential to this situation get the F%$%^" out" to clear the room of extraneous people just there to watch. I was flat on my back for a week with these inflatable leg things and a cathater... I'm still a little bitter about the entire thing. 

Chris... Christy_517

When my second daughter was born, everything was ok for a few days. She was born on a Sunday, I went home on Tuesday afternoon, and by Wednesday at lunchtime I was on my way back to the hospital. My mom came over to help me with my girls, both the 17 month old and the newborn. When she walked in she about dropped her purse. I was sitting in my husband's Lazy Boy chair, rocking the babies and watching my feet swell. My face and fingers were also so swollen, it was actually kind of gross. She ended up staying with the girls while my husband raced home from work to take me back to the hospital. My blood pressure was near stroke level, and I was re-admitted for a couple more days. It was awful. Fast forward almost 8 years, and I ended up pre-eclamptic with my son, and he was born at 31 weeks. We're now done with kids. I can't take the chance that something bad could happen again, so I had my tubes tied during my c-section with my son. Anyway, I'm glad I'm not the only one, most people thought I was nuts!

tazdvl tazdvl

My sister did. She blew up so much before she left the hospital she had to wear my dads slippers home.

Anne Garrett Addison

Thanks for an excellent, to the point, article. Loved it. Particularly as I am the founder of the Preeclampsia Foundation and I specifically founded it because of two post-partum preeclampsia experiences that nearly did me in. I love your writing style and your facts are spot on. :) Terrific--thanks much!

Nanette Tremblay

I was preeclamptic. Delivered my son @32 weeks gestation. I was never put on any medicines until I was admitted to hospital. My OB kept chalking up my symptoms as anxiety and my swelling of the feet and my legs became very obvious. It wasn't normal. I delivered my son by emergency C-Section. After laying in a hospital bed for nearly a week with high extreme high bp numbers. I wasn't being treated as a high risk patient therefore I didn't even have my own high risk doctor. I was sent to a different city where nobody knew me. I was also pre -e after I DELIVERED my son I believe I was being put on different bp medications and 2 beta -blockers were perscribed but the one beta-blocker I had serious side effects and had to step off slowly, then ended up in emergency room after passing out from being on too much BP meds. Looking back today --I know I should of been monitored correctly. My numbers were so high they were telling me I was on the edge of having a stroke. So why did they let me lay there for nearly a week and wait for it to get that bad? My son weighed 5 lbs at birth. He was doing just fine, it was me that wasn't doing well.

Wendy Lysak

Thank you so much for an excellent article that tells it like it is. I carried my twin boys to 37.5 weeks, when we had a planned c-section. No high bp, no issues at all really. They were delivered on a Wednesday morning, and the next Tuesday, I was back in the hospital after suffering all the signs of post partum eclampsia - vision loss, the worst headache of my life, protein in my urine, and a seizure. My BP was so high, the doctors said I was close to having a stroke. Two and a half years later, I have found some relief with my BP and eclampsia related liver problems through the guidance of a nautropath. This terrific health care professional has been much more helpful and supportive than the OB who treated me through the pregnacy and thru the recovery. He is the one who told me that any symptoms of eclampsia would disappear within six weeks of my experience. Personally, I know that I will never be the same, physically or mentally. How could I be the same after almost leaving my husband, my then 2.5 year old son and newborn twin boys without a wife and mother?

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