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Rachel Gueller was thrilled to find out that she was pregnant at the age of 25. “I always wanted to be a young mum,” says Rachel. “Plus, I figured the chances of anything going wrong were slim, due to my age.” At her 5-month check-up, however, her doctor noted an increase in her blood pressure. The next day the doctor ran a few more tests, re-checked her blood pressure and discovered that the mum-to-be had preeclampsia.

According to The Royal Women’s Hospital in Victoria, preeclampsia affects 5-0% of pregnancies, making it one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related complications. It is the cause of 20% of labour inductions and 5% of Casearean sections. If left untreated, the condition can be fatal for both mum and baby.

The challenging part about preeclampsia is that many of the symptoms, such as weight gain, headaches and swelling, occur in normal pregnancies. That’s why regular prenatal visits — and open, brutally honest discussions with your doctor or midwife — are key. “Preeclampsia is similar to an immune illness, with the mother showing an abnormal response to the placenta tissue,” says Dr Eduardo Raez. Since pregnancy is the cause of the condition, the only treatment is delivery, he adds. If diagnosed with preeclampsia, the goal is to keep the baby in utero as long as possible, which is why early diagnosis is important. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms…

1. Vision problems

When you’re pregnant, dry eyes (especially if you wear contacts) are normal. Seeing spots or flashing lights, or experiencing a sudden change in vision (such as blurriness), are all possible signs of preeclampsia, says Dr Priya Agrawal, the former Director of Research and Development for the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health.

2 Severe headache

Headaches, of course, are common during pregnancy (sinus congestion is often the cause), but severe headaches or headaches that won’t go away may signal preeclampsia.

3. Abdominal pain

Pregnancy can be full of aches and pains, but “pain in the upper abdomen or under the ribs can be a sign of preeclampsia,” says Dr Agrawal.

4. Nausea and dizziness

Chances are, you’ll feel dizzy and queasy at some point while expecting (hello, morning sickness!)  — but you want to pay special attention to those symptoms during the second half of your pregnancy.

5. Swelling in the face or hands

Your feet will probably swell during your pregnancy, but swelling in your face, around your eyes and in your hands could be a sign of preeclampsia.

6. Sudden weight gain

It’s normal to gain weight when you’re expecting. However, if you notice that you’re gaining more than kilo a week, even though your eating habits have stayed the same, you may have preeclampsia, says Dr Raez.

Many pregnant women who are diagnosed with preeclampsia are put on bed rest and may have additional prenatal visits and tests. Often the baby is delivered via C-section, but, in general, mum and baby are just fine after the delivery. Gueller delivered her son Miles via a Cesarean at 35 weeks. Although Miles spent several weeks in the NICU, he’s now a happy, healthy 3-year-old.

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Photo: Getty