Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy

Claire

Female
Age at interview: 39
Age at diagnosis: 39

Brief outline: I was told I had pre-eclampsia 7 months (33 weeks) into my pregnancy, though I think my symptoms started from 5 months (24 weeks). My baby daughter was delivered by emergency c-section and she stayed in SCBU (Special Care Baby) Unit for 18 days.

Background: My name is Claire; I am 39 years old and a call centre manager. My husband, Stewart, also took part in the Healthtalk study about high blood pressure in pregnancy. We have one daughter, aged 6 months. I identify as White Scottish.

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Health concerns during pregnancy

After having four miscarriages and using fertility treatments, I became pregnant. My pregnancy went well until 3 months (16 weeks) when one of my legs became swollen. I was sent to hospital in case I had a blood clot (like deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism), but no cause was found. On two other occasions, I was referred to hospital because I was dehydrated and couldn’t feel my baby moving as much as normal. 

With hindsight, I think I had a number of pre-eclampsia symptoms such as tiredness, headaches and vomiting from around 5 months (24 weeks) into my pregnancy. I developed swelling on my wrists as well as my leg. I thought at the time that all of these symptoms were normal in pregnancy and the midwives at my appointments didn’t seem concerned when I mentioned them. I had tests taken each time I was admitted to hospital – I was starting to feel more unwell as time went on, but the warning signs were not really looked into. I also developed something called hyperreflexia which meant that my legs twitched and the doctors said I had brisk reflexes. At an antenatal appointment when I was 7 months (33 weeks), my blood pressure was high and I had protein in my urine so I was sent to hospital again. 

Being unwell in hospital

I was closely monitored in hospital. I started taking medicines to reduce my blood pressure (labetalol) and to stop me from fitting. I was also given steroids to help my unborn baby’s lungs develop. I had been taking aspirin throughout my pregnancy because of my history of recurrent miscarriages and I continued this to reduce the risk of developing pre-eclampsia. After three or four days in hospital, I started to feel really uncomfortable. I had pain over my stomach and I kept being sick. A doctor suggested it was constipation but the problems continued. I started to feel breathless and sweaty. 

I was moved to the labour ward, and both my heart rate and blood pressure were higher than usual. I was induced to start labour and I was carefully monitored, although at one point during the night my unborn baby’s heartbeat dropped off and I needed an oxygen mask to help it come back up. By the next day, I was very unwell. I developed blood poisoning and had fluid in my lungs, so the doctors decided I needed an emergency c-section.

Giving birth and my baby’s health

Earlier in my pregnancy, I had expected to have a c-section because my baby was breech and I had a low lying placenta – I had been pleased when my baby rotated and the placenta moved. However, the problems with my blood pressure meant a c-section was the best option. I felt a bit cheated about this and, at 7 months (34 weeks) into the pregnancy, it was much earlier than I had expected. The medical staff who helped deliver my baby were great though. Soon after my daughter was born, she was taken to SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) where she stayed for 18 days. I wasn’t able to see Alexandra until the following afternoon but I liked that the hospital set up a video monitor by the cot so that I could see her. Alexandra had some difficulties feeding. I was keen to breastfeed and hand-expressed as much as I could, which was tube-fed to Alexandra. However, I was still very poorly and breastfeeding was difficult. I stopped after a fortnight as my milk supply wasn’t enough for Alexandra who needed her feeds topping up with formula. 

After the birth

My blood pressure was closely monitored after I gave birth and I was discharged a few days later. Although my blood pressure was still quite high, I felt it would be best for me to get back home. Being on a ward with other mums and their new babies was really upsetting. I went into the SCBU daily to see Alexandra and I had my postnatal appointments arranged at the hospital. I set reminders on my phone for the various medications I needed to take, such as pain-relief, antibiotics and blood pressure tablets.

Information and support

I struggled with feeling guilty that my daughter was born early – I felt like my body had started to fail. I looked online and found it helpful for learning about pre-eclampsia as well as the other health concerns I had, such as blood poisoning. My husband (Stewart) and I asked the hospital to review our case. We felt my pre-eclampsia could have been picked up much sooner. We also had unanswered questions about the likelihood of future health problems, including what to do if we wanted to become pregnant again. I have some liver problems still under investigation which may have been linked to the health problems I had in my pregnancy. My advice to medical professionals is to listen carefully to pregnancy women and, potentially, to their partner and family too as they can be an important source of information.

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