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Michele Hakakha, MD

What You Need to Know About Preeclampsia

How to tell if you have this pregnancy complication and how to treat it to keep baby safe.

What is preeclampsia?

It's a condition that develops when you have a combination of high blood pressure and the appearance of protein in your urine (which is a sign that your kidneys aren't working 100 percent). It's also known as toxemia or  pregnancy-induced hypertension and is usually diagnosed after week 20.

What are the signs of preeclampsia?

You might have preeclampsia if your hands, face or feet swell excessively or if you gain more than four pounds in one week. Other symptoms include vision changes, intense pain in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting and severe headaches. It's serious because it can affect the placenta, as well as your kidneys, liver and brain. It can lead to a condition called eclampsia, which creates seizures and can cause major organ problems and even death.

Are there any tests for preeclampsia?

Your doctor will give you a physical exam and will test your blood and urine.

How common is preeclampsia?

It happens in about 5 to 10 percent of pregnancies.

How did I get preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is more likely to occur among women with chronic high blood pressure or who developed preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy, as well as women over age 40 or younger than 20 and those pregnant with twins, triplets or higher-order multiples. Also, if you have a blood clotting disorder, diabetes, kidney disease or certain autoimmune diseases, you may be at a higher risk. There may also be a genetic link, so pay special attention to warning signs if your mom had preeclampsia.

How will preeclampsia affect my baby?

Don’t panic too much, but get ready, because when you’re diagnosed with preeclampsia, that usually means you’re going to have a baby very soon. Luckily, moms and babies dealing with preeclampsia usually turn out just fine if the disorder is detected early.

What's the best way to treat preeclampsia?

Your doctor will monitor you very closely, limit your activities and may  induce labor a bit early. She might also recommend that you go on bed restdrink lots of water, eat less salt and take medication to lower your blood pressure.

What can I do to prevent preeclampsia?

There's no known way to prevent it, but you should always attend your prenatal appointments because your doctor will screen for preeclampsia. Also, make sure you eat a healthy diet and exercise.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have preeclampsia?

“I was just diagnosed with preeclampsia last weekend and have been hospitalized since. I was on anti-hypertensive meds for a couple of days. I am still doing daily NSTs for the babies and twice weekly BPPs."

“I was having my blood pressure and baby monitored twice a week for a few weeks. I started getting severe migraines and I usually don't have them. My blood pressure was 149/105, I had protein in my urine and my kidney/liver blood work came back above normal—but baby was doing okay. He was already 37 weeks so they admitted me and I had a c-section that afternoon.”

“I have chronic high blood pressure because of genetics. I had preeclampsia with my first child. This time around, for my second pregnancy, my doctor is monitoring me closley as a high-risk pregnancy (extra appointments, bloodwork, urine tests, ultrasounds, etc)."

Are there any resources for preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia Foundation

Plus more from The Bump:

What’s preeclampsia, and how can I prevent it? 

Checklist: Packing a Hospital Bag 

High blood pressure during pregnancy