Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure condition that only occurs in pregnancy and during the postpartum period. Women who have preeclampsia develop high blood pressure and may also have signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working normally.

Preeclampsia is a serious health problem for pregnant women around the world. It affects 2 to 8 percent of pregnancies worldwide. In the United States, it’s the cause of 15 percent of premature births. Premature birth is birth that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Most women with preeclampsia have healthy babies. But if it’s not treated, it can cause severe health problems for you and your baby.

For most women, preeclampsia happens after 20 weeks of pregnancy. When it happens during the postpartum period, it is usually within 48 hours of having a baby. However, it can develop up to 6 weeks after birth.

One of the best ways to detect preeclampsia is to go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you’re feeling fine. Preeclampsia sometimes develops without any signs. This means you may have preeclampsia and not know it. During your prenatal care checkups your health care provider will measure your blood pressure and test your urine for protein. In the case of preeclampsia, there’s usually a presence of protein in the urine. 

Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include:

  • Changes in vision, like blurriness, flashing lights, seeing spots or being sensitive to light
  • Headache that doesn’t go away
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting or dizziness
  • Pain in the upper right belly area or in the shoulder
  • Sudden weight gain (2 to 5 pounds in a week)
  • Swelling in the legs, hands or face
  • Trouble breathing

Many of these signs and symptoms are common discomforts of pregnancy. If you have even one sign or symptom, call your provider right away. Without treatment, preeclampsia can cause serious health problems for you and your baby, even death.

If you’re at risk for preeclampsia, your provider may want you to take low-dose aspirin to help prevent it. Talk to your provider to see if treatment with low-dose aspirin is right for you. Visit marchofdimes.org for more information about how to have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

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