Pregnancy Complication

What you need to know about preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is when a pregnant woman develops both high blood pressure and protein in her urine. It can occur after the 20th week of pregnancy. Most women with mild preeclampsia deliver healthy babies. However, it can progress to cause severe problems for some expectant moms. Without proper management, the condition can cause kidney, liver and brain damage. It also may affect how the blood clots and cause serious bleeding problems.

In rare cases, preeclampsia can become a life-threatening condition called eclampsia. Eclampsia, which can sometimes lead to a coma, is when a pregnant woman has seizures as a result of severe preeclampsia.

Understand what causes preeclampsia.

At this point, the causes of the condition are still unknown. However, organizations like the March of Dimes are supporting researchers who are seeking the answers with the goal of developing new treatments. You may have an increased risk of developing preeclampsia if:

  • itís your first pregnancy.
  • you experienced preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy.
  • you have a family history of the condition.
  • you suffer from high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, certain blood-clotting disorders, lupus or other autoimmune disorders.
  • youíre pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.).
  • youíre older than 35.
  • youíre African-American.
  • youíre overweight or obese.

While there is no way to prevent preeclampsia, maintaining a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy may help to lower a womanís risk of developing the condition. If a woman has any concerns, she should speak to her doctor who can help alleviate any fears or suggest the best course of treatment.

Recognize the symptoms.

As with any illness or complication, knowing what to watch for is half the battle. Symptoms include:

  • high blood pressure.
  • protein in the urine.
  • severe headaches.
  • vision problems, like blurriness, flashing lights, or sensitivity to light.
  • pain in the upper right belly area.
  • nausea or vomiting.
  • dizziness.
  • sudden weight gain (two-five pounds in a week).
  • swelling in the legs, hands and face.

Many of these signs and symptoms are normal discomforts of pregnancy. But if a woman has severe symptoms, she should call her healthcare provider. The doctor then checks the urine for protein and measures blood pressure. These routine tests also take place at every prenatal care visit, allowing physicians to monitor for the condition.

Know the stages of preeclampsia.

As with many conditions, the stage of pregnancy can impact the course of treatment. Women with mild preeclampsia before 37 weeks can sometimes stay at home, while others need to stay in the hospital. A healthcare provider monitors the womanís blood pressure, performs certain blood tests and checks urine regularly to make sure the preeclampsia doesnít get worse. If the situation does get worse, the physician may induce labor, which can help prevent possible problems. Most women who experience mild preeclampsia at 37 weeks or beyond donít have serious health problems.

When the pregnancy is before 34 weeks, patients require a hospital stay for close monitoring. Healthcare providers may prescribe a corticosteroid if they think they will need to deliver the baby early. This medicine helps speed up the growth of the babyís lungs. Most babies of moms with severe preeclampsia before 34 weeks of pregnancy do better in a neonatal intensive care unit than if they stay in the uterus.

Explore your options.

The cure for preeclampsia is the birth of the baby. Treatment depends on how severe the preeclampsia is and how far along the women is in her pregnancy. Even if the conditionís mild, treatment may be needed to ensure it doesnít get worse.