Preeclampsia, a severe disease affecting pregnant women, can sneak up on a girl. An innocent headache blamed on pregnancy stress, swollen feet and ankles blamed on pregnancy weight gain, massive weight gain one week blamed on too many late night snacks. Separately these pregnancy symptoms can mean nothing but a tough pregnancy, but if they’re laced together these symptoms can mean preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia effects may organ systems in the body; the heart, the blood vessels, the uterus as well as affecting the mother and baby. The mother is diagnosed with preeclampsia when she is past 20 weeks of her pregnancy, her blood pressure is “high”, i.e. greater than 160/110 (normal is 120/80) and there is protein in the urine. More outward symptoms of preeclampsia are severe headaches accompanied with seeing spots or flashing lights, retention of water seen in the face and hands along with the legs and feet, sudden weight gain and decreased urine.
Preeclampsia is still a cause of death in the USA, though it is more common in less economically developed parts the world. The Journal of Pregnancy 2011 states that even today preeclampsia causes almost 16% of maternal deaths in the USA and is responsible for a higher percentage of maternal deaths in the world. If Lady Sybil from “Downton Abbey” is suffering from preeclampsia than we all must be touched by it!
What Causes Preeclampsia
What causes preeclampsia is still unknown but there are a few similarities; maternal age, over 35 yrs, first pregnancy, multiple fetuses, being overweight, having a history of diabetes or high blood pressure, diet and problems with blood vessels. There are only a few items here a person is able to control; weight, diet and lifestyle.
Treatment of Preeclampsia
Treatment of preeclampsia is mother and baby specific. If the increase in blood pressure is severe, immediate delivery of the child is the only “cure” for preeclampsia. If preeclampsia is diagnosed but is treatable with bed rest this is prescribed. However high blood pressure can be caused by a diet that is rich in processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle, so can preeclampsia be treated by a low sodium lifestyle for the remainder of the pregnancy?
The answer is yes. Bed rest for preeclampsia will come with the stipulations of drinking lots of water and eating less salt. And this is why.
Drinking lots of water when you’re retaining water, the puffy hands and feet of preeclampsia, works because it helps to flush the trapped water out of the cells and into the kidneys. The sodium part of salt (sodium chloride) works in the body to maintain fluid levels in the cells. When there is too much salt, there is too much fluid in the body (ever felt puffy after eating salty chips and margaritas?!). The more fluid there is in the body the harder the heart has to work to push blood to all the organs, resulting in a high blood pressure than normal. This is just a single example of how high blood pressure is created.
If only eliminating salt from the diet was a cure-all for preeclampsia, it would be the safest fix-safer than early delivery of the baby. Unfortunately reducing salt intake is just one way preeclampsia can be handled.