Understanding Preeclampsia

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
When some women are pregnant, they end up with a dangerous condition called preeclampsia. Usually this occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy. It may also occur either during labor, or after your child is born.
When a woman has preeclampsia, she also has high blood pressure. In addition, she may have too much protein in her urine, and start having problems with her eyes, kidneys or liver.

Symptoms of preeclampsia

Traditionally, women who have preeclampsia don’t feel different. This is because with preeclampsia you don’t have symptoms unless it’s severe. The signs may include:
  • Vision changes- seeing spots, flashes of light or blurry vision
  • Upper belly pain
  • A serious headache

If you are having any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Because these symptoms also happen in a normal pregnancy, you may not even have preeclampsia. Your doctor needs to know about the symptoms, though. You’ll also want to call your doctor right away if you have vaginal bleeding.

Preeclampsia and your baby

Preeclampsia may decrease the amniotic fluid surrounding your child in your uterus. It may also slow down your baby’s growth.

Call your doctor right away if your baby stops moving as much as they used to. They may want to do some tests to check for potential problems.

Testing for preeclampsia

In order to test for preeclampsia, your doctor will want to take your blood pressure and check your urine for protein. They may also want to do blood tests to make sure you aren’t having any trouble with your organs.

When your blood pressure is checked, there will be two numbers. With preeclampsia the top number, or systolic pressure, will have to be at least 140 or the bottom number, or diastolic pressure, has to be at least 90. With preeclampsia, you also either will have too much protein in your urine, or be having problems with at least one organ.

You can have high blood pressure of more than 140/90 during your pregnancy and not experience high protein in your urine or other problems. In this case, it’s not preeclampsia. However, if you do get high blood pressure, your doctor will want to keep a close eye on you. You could later develop preeclampsia or other issues related to your high blood pressure.

Treating preeclampsia

The only way to cure preeclampsia is to deliver your child. It’s up to your doctor how early they want you to give birth. If you’re close to your due date, your doctor may want to give you some medicine to start your contractions. This is what’s called inducing labor. Usually, though, women can still have a normal vaginal delivery. In some cases, though, your doctor may want to do a C-section. This surgery takes your baby out.
If your due date is still several weeks away, and you don’t have severe preeclampsia, your doctor may want you to wait. This gives your child additional time to develop and grow. If you do wait, your doctor will check up on you often to make sure there aren’t problems. You may even be admitted to the hospital.

If you have extremely high blood pressure, your doctor may put you on medicine, which lowers your blood pressure in order to prevent a stroke. Women who have preeclampsia also sometimes have seizures. You will most likely get medicine during your labor to prevent this.

Preventing preeclampsia

There’s nothing you can do to prevent preeclampsia. Most importantly, you want to go to all your doctor’s appointments so that if your blood pressure does go up, if there’s too much protein in your urine, or you have other problems, they’ll be spotted right away. You’ll also want to call your doctor right way if you’re having any symptoms of preeclampsia or your baby isn’t moving around as much. Your doctor can do certain things to help prevent you from having preeclampsia-related problems which are worse.

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