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Everything You Should Know About Preeclampsia and Pregnancy

written by Vidya Sury May 23, 2022
What is preeclampsia? Who is at risk? Prevention and Management

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What is preeclampsia? What happens with this condition? What are its causes, and who is at risk? How to prevent and manage preeclampsia?  

The news that you are pregnant is one of the most exciting events in your life. And of course, with that comes the consciousness that you should do everything you possibly can to make sure your baby is healthy and arrives on the due day as scheduled.

You make plans to ensure that you are getting all the nutrition you need, taking all the supplements and vitamins your doctor advised, and preparing for your bundle of joy to fill your life with happiness.

And oh, the planning! This includes regular checkups with the doctor.

Once you have embraced the initial excitement, it is time to learn more about what to expect during your pregnancy so that anything unusual can be monitored and treated. You already know that you may experience cramping, insomnia, anxiety, and morning sickness, along with other pregnancy symptoms.

Read Pregnancy Guide – Week by week: What to expect when you are pregnant.

Even with proper care, there are conditions such as preeclampsia that can occur during pregnancy or after delivery. This can be risky both for you and your baby.

Preeclampsia is a serious condition that affects pregnant women and their babies and occurs in about 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies.

Preeclampsia is persistent high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy or the postpartum period and is often associated with high levels of protein in the urine OR the new development of decreased blood platelets, trouble with the kidneys or liver, fluid in the lungs, or signs of brain trouble such as seizures and/or visual disturbances. – Preeclampsia Foundation

Discuss with your doctor how you can lower your risk for preeclampsia and how to recognize the warning signs. You may even be referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist if necessary.

The good news is that after a baby is delivered, the symptoms are likely to resolve in 48 hours. According to research,  many women with preeclampsia also see their symptoms disappearing and their liver and kidney function return to normal in a few months.

What Happens with Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia affects the blood vessels that carry blood to the placenta. When the placenta does not receive enough blood, it affects the baby as it does not get adequate nutrients and oxygen. This results in slow growth, low birth weight, and premature birth.

Is There a Cure?

The only cure for preeclampsia is to give birth. Even after delivery, symptoms of preeclampsia can last several weeks.

What Can You Do?

You can protect yourself by learning more about how to recognize the symptoms of preeclampsia and keeping your doctor’s appointments for prenatal care. If you are at risk, an early diagnosis can lower the chances of complications and increase the chances of a healthy baby. Understanding the condition can help you get the care you need.

What Are the Causes of Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia and eclampsia are believed to be caused when a woman’s placenta does not work how it should. Other likely factors are poor nutrition and high body fat, genetics, and a lack of blood flow to the uterus.

What is preeclampsia in pregnancy

Who Is at Risk for Preeclampsia?

Some of the risk factors for preeclampsia are:

  • Teens and women over 40
  • African American
  • First-time pregnancy
  • Having babies less than 2 years apart or more than 10 years apart
  • Pregnancy with a new partner instead of the father of your previous children
  • A history of high blood pressure
  • A family history of preeclampsia
  • Obesity
  • Carrying more than one baby
  • In-vitro fertilization
  • A history of diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis

Here Is What You Should Know About Preeclampsia

  1. Know the definition. Preeclampsia occurs when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and elevated protein levels in her urine. If left untreated, it can escalate into eclampsia. This condition used to be called toxemia.
  2. Get diagnosed early. Early diagnosis is vital! Doctors used to wait for signs of both high blood pressure and excess protein, but now the diagnosis is based solely on blood pressure. This allows women to receive treatment more promptly.
  3. Recognize the timeline. Preeclampsia usually begins sometime after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In rare cases, it can start earlier.
  4. Spot the symptoms. There are often no visible symptoms. The most common signs are rapid weight gain of several pounds in less than 2 days because of an increase in bodily fluid, along with headaches, shoulder pain, and pain under the right ribs. You may also have sudden swelling in your face and hands. This is different from the normal weight gain and sore feet and swollen ankles that accompany pregnancy.

Besides swelling, protein in the urine, and high blood pressure (over 130/80), symptoms include:

  • A change in reflexes or mood
  • Reduced peeing or no peeing
  • Dizziness
  • Having trouble with breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Change in vision

How To Prevent Preeclampsia?

  1. Keep up with prenatal visits. Call your doctor or go to an emergency room if you experience any symptoms of preeclampsia. During regular prenatal visits, your doctor can also monitor your blood pressure and urine.
  2. Lose weight. Overweight women are more vulnerable to preeclampsia. If possible, try to lose any excess weight before conceiving to lower your risk.
  3. Control diabetes. Diabetes and other chronic conditions can aggravate preeclampsia. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for managing your blood sugar through medication and lifestyle changes.
  4. Know your other risk factors. Preeclampsia is also more common in women who are pregnant for the first time or expecting multiples. The same is true if you have a family history of preeclampsia if you’re under the age of 20, or over 35 years of age.

How to Manage Preeclampsia

  1. Prepare for early delivery. In general, your doctor will try to determine how safe it is for you to give birth early to keep preeclampsia from progressing. That may mean inducing labor or having a cesarean delivery. In many cases, everything can still turn out fine for you and your baby.
  2. Stay in bed. Your doctor may recommend that you stay in bed at home or in a hospital in order to lower your blood pressure. You’ll probably be advised to lie on your left side. A hospital stay allows for increased monitoring.
  3. Consider other treatments. There are some additional treatments you can expect. Steroids may be used to help your baby’s organs mature more quickly. You may need to take blood pressure medication and magnesium to prevent seizures. Getting adequate vitamin D from food and supplements may also be helpful.
  4. Get follow-up care. The symptoms of preeclampsia usually disappear within 1 to 6 weeks after giving birth. However, some women experience the effects for longer. There’s also evidence that preeclampsia can continue to cause a higher risk of stroke. Consult your doctor to assess and manage your risks!

Talk with your doctor about any other concerns you have about preeclampsia. Regular prenatal care gives you and your baby the best chance for a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

Remember that even though you may not be able to prevent preeclampsia, regular prenatal visits with your doctor can mean early detection and care. Also, make sure you eat healthy by avoiding highly processed foods.

What is Preeclampsia in Pregnancy? Causes, Who is at risk? Prevention and Management

Please note: The information on our website is purely for educational purposes. It does NOT substitute medical advice, treatment, or diagnosis. For any health issues, please consult your doctor.

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