Understanding Preeclampsia

Understanding Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is high blood pressure (hypertension) that happens during pregnancy. It
often shows up around the 20th week of pregnancy. It often goes back to normal by the 12th
week after you give birth. It can lead to serious health risks for you and your baby.
During your pregnancy, your healthcare provider will watch your blood pressure.

Symptoms

A
common symptom of preeclampsia is high blood pressure. Other symptoms may include:

  • Rapid weight gain

  • Protein in your urine

  • Headache

  • Belly (abdominal) pain on your right side

  • Vision problems. These include flashes or spots.

  • Swelling (edema) in your face or hands. This also often happens near the end of
    normal pregnancies, even without preeclampsia.

Tests you may have

Your healthcare provider will want to check your blood pressure throughout your pregnancy. If your blood pressure is high, you may have the following tests:

  • Urine tests to look for protein

  • Blood tests to confirm preeclampsia

  • Fetal monitoring to make sure that your baby is healthy

Treating preeclampsia

You
may need to take a daily low dose of aspirin if you are at risk for preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia almost always ends soon after you give birth. Until then, your healthcare
provider can help manage your condition. If your symptoms are mild, you may need
activity limits at home, including bed rest and no heavy lifting. If your symptoms are
severe, you will stay in the hospital. Hospital treatment includes:

  • Activity limits to help control blood pressure. This means no heavy lifting and 8
    hours per day lying down with the feet up.

  • Magnesium IV (intravenous) drip during labor to prevent seizures

  • Induced labor or surgical delivery by cesarean section. Delivery is considered
    the cure for preeclampsia.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call
your healthcare provider if swelling, weight gain, or other symptoms come on quickly or
are severe. Some cases of preeclampsia are more severe than others. Your symptoms also
may change or get worse as you get closer to your due date.

Who’s at risk?

No
one knows what causes preeclampsia. Preeclampsia can happen in any pregnant woman. But
it is more common in first-time pregnancies. Things that increase the risk include:

  • Previous pregnancies. You are at risk if you had preeclampsia, intrauterine
    growth retardation (IUGR), preterm birth, placental abruption, or fetal death in a
    past pregnancy.

  • Health history of mother. You are at risk if you have diabetes, high blood
    pressure, obesity, kidney disease, autoimmune disease such as lupus, or a family
    history of preeclampsia.

  • Current pregnancy. You are at risk if this is your first pregnancy, or if you
    have multiple fetuses, are younger than age 18 or older than 40, or used in
    vitro fertilization.

  • Race. You are at risk if you are black.

Dangers of preeclampsia

If
not treated, preeclampsia can cause problems for you and your baby. The placenta is the
organ that nourishes your baby. It may tear away from the uterine wall. This can put the
baby at risk for health problems (fetal distress) and premature birth. Preeclampsia can
also cause these health problems:

  • Kidney failure or other organ damage

  • Seizures

  • Stroke

Once you give birth

In
most cases, preeclampsia goes away on its own soon after you give birth. This is often
by the 12th week after you give deliver. Within days of delivery, your blood pressure,
swelling, and other symptoms should get better. For some women, problems from
preeclampsia can continue after delivery.

Postpartum preeclampsia that develops within the first 48 hours after
delivery is rare. Another type of postpartum preeclampsia that develops more than 48
hours after delivery is called late-onset preeclampsia. It is also rare. Contact your
healthcare provider right away if you have symptoms of preeclampsia after you
deliver.