Signs & Symptoms of Preeclampsia

You may have heard about preeclampsia as a serious complication that can happen in pregnancy, but what exactly is it, and do you know the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy that is typically characterized by high blood pressure (anything over 140/90) occurring after 20 weeks of gestation, that starts to effect other organ systems.  It can lead to worsening conditions like seizures, strokes and HELLP syndrome.  Preeclampsia can also affect the baby, as the blood flow to the placenta is altered.

If you already have high blood pressure, your chronic hypertension puts you at higher risk for preeclampsia.  Some women may develop high blood pressure just when they’re pregnant.  This is called gestational (or pregnancy-induced) hypertension and can lead to preeclampsia too.  For a few pregnant women, a random spike in blood pressure can be the signal of preeclampsia starting.  From talking to a lot of moms, many don’t seem to know that preeclampsia can also happen after the baby is here.  Women can still be at risk for the first 6 weeks postpartum.

Your healthcare provider should be taking your blood pressure at every visit.  They also take a urine sample.  They are looking for protein in your urine, which could be a sign that you have preeclampsia, and it is affecting your kidneys.   Your provider may even give you a little bucket to take home in order to collect all your urine for 24-hours.

Some symptoms of preeclampsia are hard to differentiate from normal pregnancy, but if they come on suddenly, see your provider:

  • Swelling of the legs, hands, or face.  
  • Weight gain of 3-5 pounds in a week, though this would be from fluid retention, not from the baby growing.
  • Nausea or vomiting.

Other symptoms should be easy to recognize, and you should get seen emergently:

  • Changes in your vision- especially spots
  • A terrible headache that doesn’t go away
  • Pain right below the chest bone, or in the shoulder
  • Shortness of breath

There are medications that can help manage preeclampsia but the only cure is delivering the baby.  If the condition is worsening, the provider may choose to induce your labor early, or depending on the circumstances, do a c-section.

There is no sure way to prevent preeclampsia, but you can lower your risk by eating a balanced diet, maintaining activity or exercise, and seeing your provider as often as suggested.

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