Papilledema due to high intracranial pressure during pregnancy

Eyes, Pregnancy

When my mom was pregnant with me, her eyes had felt very uncomfortable. She said the sensation was similar to what you feel when you go out in the sun and come back indoors- the surroundings become dark. It is as if a dark film envelopes your sight. And she felt, to be put in layman terms, ‘cobwebs in the eyes’.

One day, a patient needed to be brought to the eye clinic- as there was no available assistant nurse, my mom offered to push the patient (the patient was on the wheelchair) to the eye clinic. There, she bumped into a Korean doctor whom she had assisted in a cataract operation from another hospital.

The doctor asked how she was and she told him that she felt a funny sensation- like having cobwebs in the eyes. She always felt the sensation as if she had just gone out to the sunlight and came back and see everything darkened- even though she had done so.  The doctor shone the eye torch on my mom’s eyes and instantly looked alarmed. Immediately he called his superior, who was the eye specialist to take a look.

My mom was diagnosed with papilledema, caused by high intracranial pressure. It was lucky that it was detected in time- because one fall could be fatal as the pressure in her skull was high. She was immediately warded and given high doses of steroids. Because she was pregnant with me and did not want any complications, she flushed the medicine down the toilet bowl. After a few days of doing that, the pills floated on the toilet bowl- she was afraid of being found out and went to dispose it on some other ways.

A friend of my mom who had worked in the eye clinic for years told her that she was risking her life by not taking the medication. Because the pressure in the brain is high, any wrong movement could be fatal. Her friend said she was just lucky she was not blind for not taking the medication.

The doctors did a lumbar puncture in an attempt to collect some spinal fluid. My mom recalled that as the tests were performed, senior specialists, and a small team of doctors and nurses gathered around her- to prepare just in case she had complication. This is because patients who have high intracranial pressure could risk having their small brain flow downwards to the spine the moment the lumbar is being punctured. It was an extremely dangerous procedure that my mom could not talk them out of doing.

Further than that, the doctors wanted to inject a radioactive dye because they detected some abnormalities. She asked the doctors, ‘what is the percentage of the radioactive dye that would pass through the fetus via the placenta? The doctors could not give her an answer. She negotiated with the doctors that she would come back to do the test after she gave birth. The doctors relented – but she never went back to do the test.

After she gave birth to me – via caesarian because I just refused to come out the natural way : P , her intracranial pressure normalized.  She had some other strange conditions when she was pregnant with me that disappeared after I was born.

But decades later in 2007, she developed glaucoma, which fortunately was detected on time and promptly treated. The lesson goes to say that if during pregnancy a woman suffered from symptoms such as high intracranial pressure that went off after the birth of the child, ensure consistent checkup related to pressure such as blood pressure and glaucoma. If a woman suffered from symptoms similar to diabetes, ie urine contained traces of glucose, she should also go for regular blood tests, exercise and watch her sugar intake to ensure she does not get diabetes in later life.

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