Be on the Watch for Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a common high blood pressure problem in pregnancy. It happens in about 2% to 8% of all pregnancies.  It’s a serious issue. It can affect the health of the mom and her baby.  

Detecting preeclampsia

High blood pressure is a reading of more than 140/90 mmHg. Preeclampsia happens when a woman without a history of high blood pressure get high blood pressure in pregnancy. This starts about halfway through pregnancy, after 20 weeks. If this occurs before 32 weeks, it’s called early-onset preeclampsia. If it happens later, it’s called late-onset preeclampsia. 

In addition to high blood pressure, women with preeclampsia have other problems. You may have protein in your urine. Or you may have changes in your blood, liver, kidneys, or other organs. 

A dangerous problem

Preeclampsia is thought to be due to changes in the placenta. It causes problems with the mother's vascular system. Some blood vessels get bigger and others constrict. It also forces fluid out into your surrounding tissues. The condition also affects the placenta and baby. It also impacts the mother's kidneys, liver, and brain.

Preeclampsia can come on gradually or suddenly. It can range from mild to severe. In its most severe form, preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia (maternal seizures), stroke, or bleeding in the liver. 

This issue also increases the mom’s risk of getting HELLP syndrome. This is a severe problem that affects your liver, platelets, and breakdown of red blood cells. Preeclampsia also increases your baby’s risk for slowed growth and stillbirth. 

Treating preeclampsia

If you have a mild case of preeclampsia, your healthcare provider may admit you to a healthcare facility. There, he or she will watch you. If you and your baby are stable and your baby isn’t at term, you may be allowed to rest at home. You may need lab tests and fetal heart rate monitoring or ultrasounds. You may also need to check your blood pressure at home.

Women with severe cases of preeclampsia are admitted to a healthcare facility for close monitoring. If you’re stable and less than 34 weeks pregnant, your pregnancy may be allowed to go on.  You may need to take medicines to treat your blood pressure and prevent seizures. You may also receive corticosteroids to help your baby's lungs mature. But if your condition gets worse, you’ll need to deliver your baby.

When to call your healthcare provider

Be alert for signs of preeclampsia. Call your healthcare provider right away if you have the following symptoms:

  • Headaches, especially severe ones

  • Swelling of your face or sudden weight gain and swelling

  • Blurred vision, spots in your vision, or other vision problems

  • Pain in your upper or mid-belly

  • Urinating less than normal 

Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPHFoley, Maryann, RN, BSN

Date Last Reviewed: 4/12/2016

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