The good news is that preeclampsia – a condition in which a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine – is pretty rare. Only about 5% of all pregnancies become preeclamptic.

The bad news is that the condition is very serious when left unchecked. If preeclampsia goes untreated, it can lead to seizures, convulsions, coma and maternal and/or fetal death as a result of toxins that accumulate in the bloodstream and placenta. For this reason, the condition was often called “toxemia.” A precursor to full-blown eclampsia, preeclampsia advances fairly rapidly, which is why early detection is key to getting the medical help you need.

What Every Woman Needs to Know About Pregnancy and Preeclampsia

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Some of the symptoms, like vision loss or extreme headaches are easily recognizable, but others, like high blood pressure or elevated protein levels in the urine, are dependent on a healthcare practitioner to suss out. Globally, preeclampsia is the leading cause of maternal and infant death so keep reading so you can learn to pay careful attention to what your pregnant body is telling you.

Know the Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia

Typically, it does not set in until after Week 20, or your fifth month of pregnancy. It doesn’t help that many of the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia involve the same types of discomforts associated with pregnancy in general. Thus, never hesitate to call your healthcare provider if you feel something is amiss.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms you would notice include:

  • Headaches – often described like migraines that don’t go away
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling beyond the norm – called edema. Your feet and ankles will often swell a little during the latter stages of pregnancy. However, any excessive swelling – or swelling that spreads to the face, around the eyes and hands – deserves special attention.
  • Shortness of breath or unusual feelings of anxiety
  • Vision changes
  • Sudden weight gain – more than 2 pounds in a week

Then there are symptoms that will only be detected by a healthcare provider. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated protein levels in your urine
  • Hyperreflexia (when the doctor taps your knee, it will “super jerk” in response)

This is one of the many reasons why routine prenatal care is so important from the beginning of your pregnancy onward. Those monthly doctor visits, which become bi-weekly and then weekly towards the latter stage of pregnancy, are instrumental in keeping track of your body and its normal pregnancy changes and side-effects so anything out of the ordinary is more easily noticed.

Unfortunately, preeclampsia is not something that can be cured. Delivery is the only way to stop it. If you aren’t full-term, your doctor will put you on immediate bed rest and hospitalization may be required. Medications to lower your blood pressure and corticosteroids may also be prescribed. If you are close enough to your due date, most doctors will want to induce labor immediately and you will be closely monitored during the postpartum period to ensure your blood pressure returns to normal.

What Cause Preeclampsia?

Unfortunately, preeclampsia is often a mystery and doctors aren’t always sure what causes it. What we do know is that a healthy pregnancy diet, regular moderate exercise and prenatal care are all factors that reduce a woman’s chances of getting preeclampsia.

That being said, there are certain risk factors associated with the condition:

  • First pregnancies.
  • A personal or family history of preeclampsia.
  • Age (mothers 40-years and older are at higher risk).
  • Different fathers – women are at higher risk with babies born of different fathers than they are with multiple pregnancies by the same father.
  • Obesity
  • Twins or higher-multiples pregnancy
  • Intervals between pregnancies. Mothers who have babies less than 2 years apart, or more than 10 years apart, are at higher risk.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, lupus, high blood pressure, blood clots, etc.

If you suspect that you or a pregnant friend or relative is showing signs of preeclampsia, call a healthcare professional and check in. A simple visit to the ER or doctor’s office will determine whether or not further action should be taken.

Contact Overlake OB/GYN to learn more or to schedule prenatal appointments with a caring staff of pregnancy, labor and delivery professionals. We’ll keep an eye on every aspect of your pregnancy.