Sarah Hughes began feeling dizzy and had trouble catching her breath five days after her daughter Haley's birth, according to an ABC News report. As a migraine sufferer, she tried to ignore the dull headaches but her husband Rob insisted that she call her doctor, who told her to get to the hospital immediately. Within six hours, Sarah was diagnosed with postnatal preeclampsia, a life-threatening rise in blood pressure that can cause seizures, stroke, and even organ shutdown resulting in death — even though she had a totally normal pregnancy.
Pregnancy-induced hypertension, also called preeclampsia or toxemia, is a pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure, swelling due to fluid retention, and protein in the urine. As many as 1 in 12 women may be affected, and of those 5.7 percent will develop postnatal preeclampsia, a rare form of the disease. It's a progressive disorder, according to Eleni Tsigas, executive director of the Preeclampsia Foundation.
"If you are not treating it and arresting it, it gets worse and worse," says Tsigas.
First-time mums are at higher risk, as are women over 35 and those who have high blood pressure or renal disease. Symptoms can include weight gain, abdominal pain, severe headaches, a change in reflexes, spots before your eyes, reduced output of urine or no urine, blood in the urine, dizziness, or excessive vomiting and nausea.
A task force at the foundation has successfully urged many states to require hospitals to provide new mums with verbal and written information about postnatal symptoms prior to discharge. Tsigas warns that if a woman is a first-time mum all of the symptoms are brand new, so she might "assume it is just part of childbirth and ignore them."
These days, 38-year old Sarah Hughes is a volunteer for the Preeclampsia Foundation and works to raise awareness of this life-threatening condition. Sarah was shocked to learn that the medical community doesn't routinely inform new mums of the symptoms of post-partum preeclampsia before they leave the hospital.