Pregnant women are forever wondering why they need ALL those prenatal office visits. Especially since, "all they do is weigh and do blood pressure and have me leave a urine specimen". There are very good clues in weight ( too much ), urine dips for protein ( excessive amounts ), and blood pressure monitoring ( elevations from the baseline normals )that are essential for making an early diagnosis of preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia or Pregnancy Induced Hypertension is a potentially very serious complication of pregnancy with an unknown cause. It is relatively uncommon, occuring about one in every ten pregnancies. It is more commonly found and diagnosed in teenagers, obese women, diabetics, women of advanced maternal age ( thirty-five or older ), women with a prior history of elevated blood pressure, multiple gestations ( twins or triplets )and women with kidney disease.
High blood pressure presents unique problems in pregnancy because there are two ( or more in the case of multiples ) patients involved. It may cause damage to maternal kidneys, liver, eyes and brain. It may affect the fetus because of the decreased blood flow to the placenta which is the source of nourishment, oxygen and elimination of wastes as long as the baby is in the uterus. This may cause growth problems and mental retardation and can even stop the pregnancy.
There are clues for mothers-to-be to watch for themselves. Rapid weight gain in excess of two pounds in a week, headaches, spots before your eyes, or pain in the epigastric area of the abdomen ( upper ). Swelling is common in pregnancy but should be evaluated because it may signal elevated blood pressure. Easy office bloodwork and a twenty-four hour urine collection are standards for diagnosing the problem.
Preeclampsia is serious but it can be managed by your provider. It may necessitate blood pressure medication, bedrest at home or hospitalization. Sometimes babies are induced to be delivered early because the end of the pregnancy will cure pregnancy induced hypertension. Some women may develop the disease very late in the pregnancy or even in the postpartum period. And it is important to continue to monitor blood pressures after the pregnancy as well, because women may be then diagnosed with high blood pressure and need treatment.
So there are very good reasons for all those frequent office visits where it may seem that not much is being done for you, but measurement of vital signs and weights and urine dips. To avoid serious complications of any disease, early detection and treatment makes for a much better outcome for all concerned. And that's always the goal! So, look forward to those office visits and know that you get to hear that baby's heartbeat at each visit too.