I always assumed preeclampsia was concerning only while you were pregnant. I had no idea a mama could become preeclamptic up to SIX WEEKS after giving birth. I also had no idea postpartum preeclampsia was going to become an intimate part of my recovery from baby #4.
I was 36 weeks —entering the home stretch. I went from being a tired, pregnant mama of 3 (soon to be 4) to a miserable, achy monster overnight. Everything hurt. I couldn’t sit, stand, lay, sleep, or do anything without pain. An additional 20 pounds of baby weight suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I was swollen from head to toe. I looked like a cartoon character who had been inflated with an air pump.
At 36 weeks and 2 days, I went into labor—consistent contractions but no progress. I was given fluids and a shot to calm the contractions. They said it was merely uterine irritability. My blood pressure was elevated, but not to the point of concern. The doctor attributed it to overall stress on my body and the contractions. I went home exhausted and still in pain.
Two days later, my water broke. My little beauty was born via c-section at 36 weeks and 4 days weighing 7 pounds 6 ounces–not what anyone would call a typical premie. She was perfect. No issues. I was feeling amazing for just having my fourth baby/third C-section. Recovery was more relaxed this time. I was up and moving with minimal pain. However, my blood pressure was still elevated, and I was swollen to the point of discomfort. Swelling has always accompanied my pregnancies, so I assumed it would start going down soon.
I went home on blood pressure medicine and was told to call if I had blurry vision or headaches. They scheduled a blood pressure check for a few days later. I never had any blurry vision/headaches/typical preeclampsia symptoms, except for swelling that never went away. My blood pressure slowly began to rise over the week. At my blood pressure check, it was in the 170s over 90’s, but all of my labs came back normal. My blood pressure medicine was increased, and another was added.
A few days later, my blood pressure topped out at 188/112. I was struggling to catch my breath, even just sitting up in bed. That night my husband turned to me and asked, “What is that noise?” I didn’t hear anything. He said, “Every time your mouth is open, you are making a rattling noise.” We went to the ER the next morning. The doctors informed me that I had fluid backing up into my lungs due to postpartum preeclampsia.
Postpartum preeclampsia typically presents within 48 hours after giving birth. However, it can show up to 6 weeks after giving birth. Symptoms can include any of the following:
- Increased blood pressure, usually over 140/90
- Protein in urine
- Decreased urination
- Headache, usually severe
- Vision changes/Blurry Vision
- Swelling in hands, face, feet, or limbs
- Abdominal pain, typically in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen
- Rapid weight gain
Hardly anyone I know seemed to be familiar with the diagnosis. This gap in knowledge can lead to a delay between the onset of symptoms and medical treatment. Around 15% of women with postpartum preeclampsia go on to develop postpartum eclampsia (seizures). According to the Mayo Clinic, other complications when untreated include:
- Postpartum eclampsia. Postpartum eclampsia is essentially postpartum preeclampsia plus seizures. Postpartum eclampsia can permanently damage vital organs, including your brain, eyes, liver, and kidneys.”
- Pulmonary edema. This life-threatening lung condition occurs when excess fluid develops in the lungs.”
- Stroke. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and food. A stroke is a medical emergency.”
- Thromboembolism. Thromboembolism is the blockage of a blood vessel by a blood clot that travels from another part of the body. This condition is also a medical emergency.”
- HELLP syndrome. HELLP syndrome — which stands for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count — can be life-threatening. Hemolysis is the destruction of red blood cells.”
Being treated for Preeclampsia
I spent 4 days in the hospital on oxygen. The doctors adjusted my blood pressure medication every day. Through IV diuretics, I lost 25 pounds of fluid in 2 days. I went from a lethargic, swollen shell of a human to an almost average person in about 4 days. My blood pressure medicines were slowly decreased over the next 6 weeks. I was blessed that my husband rushed me to the hospital before there was any permanent damage. If you experience any of the symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia, please inform your doctors. Don’t wait until it is too late.
Cleveland Medical Professional. “Postpartum Preeclampsia” Cleveland Clinic. Web. 23/11/2019. (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17733-postpartum-preeclampsia.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Postpartum Preeclampsia.” Mayo Clinic. Web. 23/11/2019. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-preeclampsia/symptoms-causes/syc-20376646.).
*This post was originally written in 2020.