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Q&A: What's Preeclampsia?

What exactly is preeclampsia and how can I prevent it from happening to me? Are there any warning signs?

Preeclampsia (also known as toxemia or pregnancy-induced hypertension) is diagnosed if, after week 20, you’ve got both high blood pressure and protein in your urine. Though its cause is a bit of a mystery, the consequences are clear. With preeclampsia, blood vessels constrict and reduce blood flow, which can affect the liver, kidneys and brain. Blood flow to baby also may be interrupted, which in severe cases can lead to poor growth, insufficient amniotic fluid or placental abruption.

Preeclampsia is fairly rare (5%-10% of pregnancies) and usually pops up between week 20 and a few days after delivery. There seems to be some genetic link, so pay special attention to warning signs if your mom had preeclampsia. Risk is also increased in women with chronic hypertension, blood clotting disorders, diabetes, kidney disease or certain autoimmune diseases, as well as those who are obese, older than 40 or younger than 20, or carrying more than one fetus. Keep an eye on your body, and let your doctor know if your hands, face or feet swell excessively or if you gain more than four pounds in one week. Other warning signs include vision change, intense pain in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting and severe headaches. If you’re diagnosed with the condition, your doctor will monitor you very closely, limit your activities, and may induce labor a bit early.

Luckily, moms and babies dealing preeclampsia usually turn out just fine if the disorder is detected early. Your best defense: Keep all of your prenatal appointments (your doctor screens for preeclampsia every time) and be aware of the warning signs. Also, studies show that keeping weight down, taking vitamins, minimizing stress and eating right can reduce your chances of getting preeclampsia. (One more reason to treat your body right!)

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