Preeclampsia is a serious health problem for pregnant women around the world. It affects 2 to 8 percent of pregnancies worldwide and is the cause of 15 percent (about 1 in 8) of premature births in the United States. Women with preeclampsia are more likely than women who don’t have preeclampsia to have preterm labor and delivery. Even with treatment, a pregnant woman with preeclampsia may need to give birth early to avoid serious problems for her and her baby.
What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. This condition can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after birth. Preeclampsia can be a serious medical condition. Without medical treatment, preeclampsia can cause kidney, liver and brain damage. It can also cause serious bleeding problems. In rare cases, preeclampsia can become a life-threatening condition called eclampsia that includes seizures. Eclampsia sometimes can lead to coma and even death.
Know the signs and symptoms:
- Severe headaches
- Vision problems, like blurriness, flashing lights, or being sensitive to light
- Pain in the upper right belly area
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sudden weight gain (2 to 5 pounds in a week)
- Swelling in the legs, hands, and face
If you have any of these signs or symptoms, contact your prenatal care provider right away.
Preeclampsia can develop gradually, or have a sudden onset, flaring up in a matter of hours. You can also have mild preeclampsia without symptoms. It’s important that you go to all of your prenatal care visits so your provider will measure your blood pressure and check your urine for protein.
How is preeclampsia treated?
The cure for preeclampsia is the birth of your baby. Treatment during pregnancy depends on how severe your preeclampsia is and how far along you are in your pregnancy. Even if you have mild preeclampsia, you need treatment to make sure it doesn’t get worse. Treatments may include medications to lower blood pressure, corticosteroids or anticonvulsant medications to prevent a seizure. If not treated, preeclampsia can cause complications during pregnancy and result in premature birth.
What causes preeclampsia?
We don’t know what causes preeclampsia, but you may be more likely than other women to have preeclampsia if you:
- are pregnant for the first time.
- had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy. The earlier in pregnancy you had preeclampsia, the higher your risk is to have it again in another pregnancy.
- have a family history of preeclampsia.
- have high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, a thrombophilia, or lupus.
- are pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets or more).
- had in vitro fertilization (IVF) – a method used to help women get pregnant.
- have poorly controlled asthma.
- are older than 40.
- are obese.
If your provider thinks you’re at high risk of having preeclampsia, he may want to treat you with low-dose aspirin to help prevent it. Talk to your provider to see if treatment with aspirin is right for you.