A dangerous and sometimes asymptomatic condition, preeclampsia can be deadly. Let's talk about some of the warning signs and what you can do to lessen your risk.
By fertility expert and OBGYN Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
1. Preeclampsia affects 2 to 8% of all pregnancies
Preeclampsia is diagnosed in women with previously normal blood pressure, who after 20 weeks of gestation show a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher, or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mm HG or higher along with proteinuria, or protein in the urine.
Preeclampsia often develops quickly, so some symptoms to watch for include:
- Persistent headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Blurry vision or other changes in eyesight
- Pain the abdomen or shoulder
- Swelling in the face or hands
- Sudden weight gain
- Extreme nausea and vomiting in the later half of pregnancy
2. Anyone can develop preeclampsia
Many women who get preeclampsia are otherwise healthy and do not have clear risk factors, but there are some risk factors such as:
- Previous preeclampsia (high-risk)
- Pregnant with multiples (high-risk)
- Chronic high blood pressure (high-risk)
- Kidney disease (high-risk)
- Autoimmune conditions (high-risk)
- Diabetes mellitus (high-risk)
- First time pregnancy (moderate risk)
- Obesity (moderate risk)
- Family history of preeclampsia (moderate risk)
- Being older than 35 (moderate risk)
3. If you’re diagnosed with preeclampsia, you may be more likely to develop preeclampsia in future pregnancies
If untreated, preeclampsia can be fatal for both you and your baby, resulting in organ damage in the liver and kidneys. It’s important that you see your doctor for checkups regularly, and pay attention to any unusual symptoms.
If you’re diagnosed with preeclampsia, you may be more likely to develop preeclampsia in future pregnancies. You are also at higher risk for future conditions when not pregnant, such as stroke, heart attack, kidney disease, and high blood pressure.
4. Your doctor may want you to deliver your baby early
If you’re 37 weeks or later, it’s likely that your provider will want to deliver your baby to avoid any further complications. If the pregnancy is less than 37 weeks along, there are treatment options your provider may explore including close monitoring and medication.
It’s important to note that every pregnancy is different and the decision will differ based on severity of the condition, how far along the pregnancy is, your medical history, and the healthcare provider.
5. Preeclampsia does not necessarily mean a c-section
Vaginal birth is typically less stressful on the body than surgery, so even women with preeclampsia will only have cesarean sections if medically necessary. This decision will be based on the severity of the condition, how far along the pregnancy is, and other potential complications.
6. There are ways to prevent and treat preeclampsia
If you’ve been diagnosed with preeclampsia, you may be treated with oral or IV medications and could be monitored either through regular checkups or through hospital admittance, depending on severity.
There may be ways to reduce your risk of preeclampsia. According to WHO, vitamin D may reduce the risk of preeclampsia, low birthweight, and preterm birth, although more research is warranted. In addition, a baby aspirin (81 mg) taken daily may be recommended if you have risk factors for preeclampsia. Consuming a baby aspirin daily can reduce the chance of preeclampsia developing.
Other helpful tips include:
- Drinking at least six glasses of water a day
- Limiting salt in your diet
- Elevating your feet
- Exercising regularly
- Preeclampsia is a dangerous pregnancy complication that is characterized by high blood pressure and/or high protein in the urine.
- Symptoms of preeclampsia include swelling, headaches, abdominal or shoulder pain, blurry vision, and more.
- You’ll likely still be able to deliver vaginally with preeclampsia, but the severity of the condition and stage of the pregnancy will determine your treatment plan.
- Some ways you can try to prevent preeclampsia include vitamin D supplementation, baby aspirin, staying hydrated, keeping feet elevated, and limiting salt intake.