Preeclampsia: Everything You Need to Know

Nearly every pregnant woman is concerned about preeclampsia, a serious disorder that is among the most common causes of death among infants and new mothers. Although it normally occurs beyond the 20th week of pregnancy, it sometimes strikes earlier – and in some cases, it can occur up to 6 weeks after delivery. Knowing who is most often affected, understanding the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia, and having tests conducted are among the first steps toward ensuring your safety and that of your little one.

Preeclampsia: Who is At Risk?

There are several risk factors for preeclampsia; teens are at an elevated risk, and so are women older than 40. Other common preeclampsia risk factors include:

-Having high blood pressure before becoming pregnant
-Being pregnant with multiples
-Having autoimmune diseases including lupus
-Certain kidney diseases
-Achieving pregnancy via egg or sperm donation
-In vitro fertilization
-A family history of preeclampsia
-Having a history of eclampsia or preeclampsia in previous pregnancies

Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia

Some preeclampsia symptoms are easy to recognize, while others are easily confused with the normal discomforts of pregnancy. Sometimes symptoms are measurable, and at other times, preeclampsia can be asymptomatic, making it very difficult to ascertain what’s happening. For example, feeling a bit lightheaded is among the week 12 pregnancy symptoms experienced by most women, and so are nausea and vomiting. Dizziness and symptoms that mimic those of morning sickness are also associated with preeclampsia. Other signs include:

-Blurred vision and other vision changes including sensitivity to light or even temporary blindness
-Headaches, often severe and sudden
-Decreased urination, even with an increase in fluid intake
-Swelling in the face, hands, arms, legs, and/or feet
-Pain in the upper abdominal region, typically felt beneath the ribs on the right
-Shortness of breath
-Sudden weight gain
-Tests for Preeclampsia

Even without symptoms, tests can confirm preeclampsia. Getting tested and continuing to have tests conducted is vital – especially if you are at an elevated risk.

-Blood Pressure Monitoring – Elevated blood pressure (usually higher than 140/90) is among the first symptoms of preeclampsia, so reduce salt intake, watch your stress level, and take other steps to keep your blood pressure at normal levels and be sure to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

-Fetal nonstress testing
-Fetal biophysical profile
-Blood tests
-Urine tests for proteinuria (elevated protein in urine)
-Treatment for Preeclampsia

Unfortunately, the only way to stop preeclampsia is to have your baby delivered. It can be a very difficult decision, particularly if you have several weeks to go. In severe cases of preeclampsia, early delivery or C-section may take place as early as 34 weeks. In the event that you’re suffering from mild preeclampsia, your doctor may decide to offer a C-section or induce labor once you reach the 37-week milestone.

Close monitoring – either at home or in the hospital – is another option; steroids may also be provided to help the baby’s lungs develop faster and improve his or her odds of enjoying good health even with early delivery. Other medications used for preeclampsia include antihypertensives and anticonvulsants.

What about low-dose aspirin? If you’re at risk, you may want to ask your doctor about adding it to your daily regimen. Just 81 milligrams per day has been shown to reduce risk by an astonishing 24 percent.

Whether you fall into one of the risk categories mentioned, or if you’re completely healthy, be sure to watch for preeclampsia. With care and appropriate monitoring, you and your baby have the best chances to enjoy a healthy future together.

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