Valerie Gommon Midwife’s Blog

Pre-eclampsia (and The Archers)

Posted on: January 4, 2011

I’ve just been listening to the latest episode of The Archers where Helen has just had an emergency caesarean section for pre-eclampsia and thought that it would be a useful subject to write about.

I think it is fantastic that the subject has been covered by the radio programme and on the whole they have got it right (wouldn’t expect anything less from The Archers!) but I would like to add a bit more.

Pre-eclampsia is a potentially serious condition of pregnancy that we are still learning about.  For serious pre-eclampsia the only treatment is to deliver the baby (sometimes prematurely), however for most pregnancies the pre-eclampsia can be monitored and the labour may well start normally and spontaneously, or the labour may be induced around your due date and you may well have a normal birth.

Pre-eclampsia is one of the things that your midwife is looking for antenatally and is usually characterised by a collection of symptoms: raised blood pressure, protein in your urine, swelling (oedema), headaches, visual disturbances and upper abdominal (epigastric) pain.

Many women will experience one or more of these symptoms without developing pre-eclampsia, but if you have two or more symptoms or feel concerned you should definitely speak to your midwife urgently.  For example many women will have a headache or some swelling and this is normal during pregnancy – it is usually only when you have several symptoms that pre-eclampsia is suspected and you will then be referred to hospital for further investigations including blood and urine test and monitoring of the baby’s wellbeing.

Women at increased risk of pre-eclampsia include:

  • Those in their first pregnancy
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having certain blood clotting disorders, diabetes, kidney disease, or an autoimmune disease like lupus
  • Having a close relative (a mother, sister, grandmother, or aunt, for example) who had preeclampsia
  • Being obese (having a body mass index of 30 or more)
  • Carrying two or more babies
  • Being younger than 20 or older than 40

However if you fall into any of these categories you are still more likely NOT to get pre-eclampsia.

There is some evidence (though not mainstream) that pre-eclampsia may be prevented by eating a really healthy diet and by increasing your protein and salt intake.  It may also be beneficial to stop work slightly earlier in your pregnancy and not to overdo things at the end of the pregnancy.

More information on the dietary aspect can be found at

2 Responses to "Pre-eclampsia (and The Archers)"

Good post I blogged about this too. The only thing that annoyed me was how easy they made it sound! I guess magnesium sulphate infusions and continuous monitoring don’t make good radio. I was so poorly that I couldn’t be moved for 8 hours following delivery. And only then in a wheelchair.

I had pre eclampsia at 26 weeks + 6 days, my baby was born the following day weighing 1lb 7oz, thankfully we are all fine, and he’s a big boy now 20 months old.

Hi Kylie Thanks for your post, sorry to have been slow in responding!

Interesting to read your story too and yes, I agree that The Archers did make it all too easy … they didn’t get it 100% right, for example they said that Helen was fine immediately after the baby was born, and in fact women can still be very ill after the baby is born. On the other hand many women have much milder pre-eclampsia and it isn’t so urgent to deliver the baby … sometimes they are just closely monitored over days and even weeks.

Sounds as if you had a tough time, but very pleased to hear that you and your baby are well.

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