Preeclampsia: What I Learned and You Need to Know

Julie Ryan Evans

Photo by Craig Evans

At first it was kind of funny when my feet and ankles began to swell. I'd waited so long to get pregnant that when I finally was, I relished each symptom.

As they continued to grow (my size 6 feet wouldn't even wedge into an 8), I showed my swollen ankles to my doctor, who dismissed them, just like she did the weight I gained more rapidly than I thought I should.

After one particularly long day at work, I felt the swelling move up my legs to my knees. I went to the grocery store, used their blood pressure machine and phoned the doctor on call.

Though my numbers were quite a bit higher than my normal reading, she didn't feel they were that high. She told me to see what happened overnight; I told her I was going to Labor and Delivery.

My son was born six days later, at 27 weeks. He weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces, and my husband's wedding band easily slid up his tiny arm.

I had severe preeclampsia, and both my life and that of my baby's were in danger. The only cure was to deliver him far before he was ready to be born.

The good news is today my son is a thriving, smart, funny 6-year-old boy with no visible effects whatsoever from his premature birth; and my second pregnancy -- though fraught with much anxiety -- was perfectly normal and resulted in the birth of my beautiful baby girl who's now 14 months old. 

But looking back, I have so many questions. Why didn't my doctor connect a few more dots and think preeclampsia? I'm not really sure, but in talking to many women who have gone through the same thing, there seems to be a common experience, which is sometimes dubbed "Skinny White Chick Syndrome."

I had none of the risk factors for preeclampsia, like obesity, a family history of preeclampsia, or being under the age of 20 or over the age 40. I'm not in one of the ethnic groups that are at a higher risk for the disease. There was no protein in my urine during my appointments, and I never had a headache.

There are a lot of unknowns about the disease, but what I do know now is that no one is immune to it. Preeclampsia, and the even more serious, eclampsia, occur in 10 percent of all pregnancies; and every pregnant woman should be aware of them.

Ironically, among the signs and symptoms cited, "none" is often listed first. But other more obvious signs of preeclampsia include: 

  • Hypertension
  • Swelling or Edema
  • Proteinuria (protein in the urine)
  • Sudden Weight Gain
  • Headache
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Changes in Vision
  • Racing pulse, mental confusion, heightened anxiety, trouble catching your breath
  • Stomach or Right Shoulder Pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Hyperreflexia (extremely strong reflexes)

For more information on preeclampsia, visit the Preeclampsia Foundation.

Has your doctor or health expert told you that you are at risk for preeclampsia?

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