Know the Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia

Know the Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia

As we bring attention to Preeclampsia Awareness Month, it’s crucial to shed light on this serious condition that occurs in 5 to 7 percent of all pregnancies. Preeclampsia is one of the leading causes of risk to maternal health and is a pregnancy complication that can begin with high blood pressure (hypertension). Experiencing high blood pressure (at or greater than 140/90 mmHg), during pregnancy is especially concerning because it reduces blood flow to the womb, resulting in less access to oxygen and nutrients which can lead to the need for preterm births (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or stillbirths. Other indicators of preeclampsia are high levels of protein in the urine (proteinuria) or swelling of the face and hands (edema).

Preeclampsia does not typically manifest until the later months of pregnancy (20+ weeks) and is usually detected through blood pressure and urine testing. Many women with preeclampsia do not experience illness or side effects indicative of the condition, which is why it is imperative to attend routine prenatal appointments. The most common symptoms related to preeclampsia are headaches that don’t go away with rest, swelling of the hands and face, changes in your vision, and/or upper abdominal pain. Other symptoms also include shortness of breath, irritability, and a decrease in urination. If you are experiencing these symptoms, alert your physician.

Treatment for preeclampsia of a pregnant woman under 37 weeks, could include both the need to be monitored in-patient and sometimes out-patient based on the severity. Sometimes this includes going on modified activity to increase blood flow to the placenta and continuous testing of the mother and baby to see if the preeclampsia is progressing. With more concerning cases, the mother will be admitted to the hospital where she will receive continuous care consisting of possible intravenous medication to control blood pressure and/or steroid injections to speed the development of the baby’s lungs.  If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia at 37 weeks or later, the healthcare provider will usually recommend proceeding with delivery.

If you have developed preeclampsia during one pregnancy, it makes you seven times more likely to have it for your next pregnancy. Preeclampsia also doubles your lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have had preeclampsia in a prior pregnancy, speak with your doctor about medications that may reduce your risk for future pregnancies. Though the specific causes of this condition are not well understood, factors that may increase one’s risk of developing preeclampsia include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Multiple gestation
  • Ethnicity
  • Family history

This condition can also manifest after birth, usually within 48 hours and up to six weeks postpartum. Symptoms can include high blood pressure, severe headaches, vision changes, upper abdominal pain, and nausea or vomiting. If you experience these symptoms within six weeks after delivery, go to your nearest emergency room for evaluation.