The importance of listening to your body, both during and after your pregnancy
This website is supported by the University of Antwerp.
What is Preeclampsia or HELLP?
Preeclampsia, formerly also called toxemia, is a complication that affects about 7% of all pregnant women. A critical first symptom is high blood pressure, often experienced together with swollen feet, hands and/or face. Other signs include headache, nausea, upper abdominal pain, or seeing flashing lights.
You may also have heard of HELLP syndrome —this stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelets—as a synonym for preeclampsia. These two pregnancy complications are treated similarly, yet they are not identical: in preeclampsia, high blood pressure is chiefly important, while organ damage is vital with HELLP.
Recognizing preeclampsia/HELLP in time?
It is essential that your blood pressure is closely monitored throughout your pregnancy. And you (and those around you) can really make a difference by being watchful for preeclampsia/HELLP symptoms. This will allow us to offer timely medical assistance.
7 symptoms every pregnant woman should recognize
Your face and hands swell up, or your feet and lower legs are suddenly heavily swollen
You are nauseous, vomiting in the second half of your pregnancy
You experience weight gain of over 2.5 kg per week
You have severe upper abdominal pain
You have severe headaches
You experience sudden breathing problems
You see flashes of light, or suffer from other visual abnormalities
Research & Diagnosis
If your doctor suspects preeclampsia or HELLP, a urine and blood test will show whether you are passing too much protein or whether certain of your organs (such as your liver or kidneys) are not functioning properly. In some, but not all cases, your baby will also experience delayed growth.
After you have been diagnosed with preeclampsia or HELLP, you will be admitted to hospital. During your stay we will try to lower your high blood pressure, perform extra blood and urine tests, and make an extensive ultrasound of your baby.
There is no cut and dried treatment for preeclampsia or HELLP (yet). This means that, if the physical strain is too much, we will prepare you and your baby for an earlier delivery than planned. The moment you give birth will be determined by the severity of the complication. It could happen quickly (after a few days) or take a bit longer (after a few weeks).
Since preeclampsia or HELLP leaves you feeling too ill to carry your pregnancy to term, your baby is usually born earlier. Fortunately, science has come a very long way in successfully treating and caring for premature babies.
A mother who has had preeclampsia will be more likely to develop high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease later in life, even equivalent to the effects of smoking.
What happens after a pregnancy with preeclampsia or HELLP?
About two days after you give birth, your illness will clear up and you will soon feel better. This is good news, because then you can start caring for your new-born.
It is, however, extremely important to ensure proper monitoring after delivery. A mother who has gone through preeclampsia or HELLP is more likely to develop high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease later in life; a risk that is even equivalent to the effects of smoking on your cardiovascular system. Should you get pregnant again, you will have a higher chance of developing preeclampsia or HELLP.
“Especially when you live a healthy life, have high pain tolerance and do not go to the doctor’s quickly, it can be challenging to think beyond ‘this will not happen to me’.”
“You hear so many pregnant women talk about swollen legs or feet. I had no history of health problems; it did not seem anything other than fat feet.”
“There is no cure for preeclampsia, but we now had the appropriate knowledge to properly prepare for my pregnancy.”
Why this website?
This website is supported by the University of Antwerp and our aim is to provide you with the best possible information about preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that you may also know as toxemia or HELLP.
You will find answers to questions like:
How do I recognize the symptoms of preeclampsia or HELLP?
How do I reduce the chance of a subsequent pregnancy with preeclampsia or HELLP?
How can I ensure that I stay healthy after a pregnancy with preeclampsia?