What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs only during pregnancy. Some symptoms may include high blood pressure and protein in the urine, occurring after week 20 of pregnancy. Preeclampsia is often precluded by gestational hypertension. While high blood pressure during pregnancy does not necessarily indicate preeclampsia, it may be a sign of another problem. The condition affects at least 5-8% of pregnancies.
Preeclampsia, formerly called toxemia, is when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure, protein in her urine, and swelling in her legs, feet, and hands. It can range from mild to severe. It usually happens late in pregnancy, though it can come earlier or just after delivery.
Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, a serious condition that can have health risks for mom and baby and, in rare cases, cause death. Women with preeclampsia who have seizures have eclampsia.
If you have a mild case and your baby has not reached full development, your doctor will probably recommend you do the following:
- Rest, lying on your left side to take the weight of the baby off your major blood vessels.
- Increase prenatal checkups.
- Consume less salt
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day
- Change your diet to include more protein
If you have a severe case, your doctor may try to treat you with blood pressure medication until you are far enough along to deliver safely, along with possibly bed rest, dietary changes, and supplements.
The only cure for preeclampsia is to give birth. Even after delivery, symptoms of preeclampsia can last 1 to 6 weeks or more.
You can help protect yourself by learning the symptoms of preeclampsia and by seeing your doctor for regular prenatal care. Catching preeclampsia early may lower the chances of long-term problems for both mom and baby.
Who is at risk for preeclampsia?
- A first-time mom
- Previous experience with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia
- Women whose sisters and mothers who had preeclampsia
- Women carrying multiple babies
- Women younger than 20 years and older than age 40
- Women who had high blood pressure or kidney disease prior to pregnancy
- Women who are obese or have a BMI of 30 or greater
Many experts think preeclampsia and eclampsia happen when a woman’s placenta doesn’t work the way it should, but they don’t know exactly why. Some think poor nutrition or high body fat might contribute. A lack of blood flow to the uterus could play a role. Genes are also a factor.
How do I know if I have preeclampsia?
At each prenatal checkup, your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure, urine levels, and may order blood tests which may show if you have preeclampsia. Your physician may also perform other tests that include: checking kidney and blood-clotting functions; ultrasound scan to check your baby’s growth; and Doppler scan to measure the efficiency of blood flow to the placenta.
Preeclampsia sometimes develops without any symptoms. High blood pressure may develop slowly, or it may have a sudden onset. Monitoring your blood pressure is an important part of prenatal care because the first sign of preeclampsia is commonly a rise in blood pressure. Blood pressure that exceeds 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or greater — documented on two occasions, at least four hours apart — is abnormal.
Other signs and symptoms of preeclampsia may include:
- Excess protein in your urine (proteinuria) or additional signs of kidney problems
- Severe headaches
- Changes in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision or light sensitivity
- Upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right side
- Nausea or vomiting
- Decreased urine output
- Decreased levels of platelets in your blood (thrombocytopenia)
- Impaired liver function
- Shortness of breath, caused by fluid in your lungs