Preeclampsia: Signs and symptoms

Preeclampsia: Signs and symptoms

Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure condition that develops during pregnancy. But do you know the signs and symptoms?

Apart from high blood pressure, you might have high levels of protein in your urine that indicate kidney damage or other signs of organ damage.

Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had previously been normal.

This is why you'll be asked for urine samples and have your blood pressure checked constantly throughout your pregnancy.

The risks


Left untreated, preeclampsia can be fatal, or lead to serious complications for both mother and baby.

Early delivery of the baby is often recommended, but how early depends on how severe the preeclampsia is and how many weeks pregnant you are.

Before delivery, preeclampsia treatment includes careful monitoring and medications to lower blood pressure and manage complications.

Preeclampsia isn't just a pregnancy complication. It can also develop after the birth, a condition known as postpartum preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia: Signs and symptoms


The defining feature of preeclampsia is high blood pressure.

There can also be protein in the urine, or other signs of damage to the kidneys or other organs.

But you may have no noticeable symptoms at all.

The first signs of preeclampsia are often detected during routine prenatal visits with a health care provider.

Other preeclampsia signs and symptoms may include:

  • Decreased levels of platelets in blood
  • Severe headaches
  • Changes in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision or light sensitivity
  • Shortness of breath, caused by fluid in the lungs
  • Pain in the upper belly, usually under the ribs on the right side
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weight gain and swelling are typical during healthy pregnancies. But sudden weight gain or sudden swelling - particularly in your face and hands - may be a sign of preeclampsia.

When to see a doctor

Make sure you attend all your prenatal visits so that your health care provider can monitor your blood pressure and general wellness.

But if in between times you have severe headaches, blurred vision, severe belly pain, or severe shortness of breath, go to an emergency room.

What causes preeclampsia?

Experts believe it begins in the placenta.

Early in your pregnancy, new blood vessels develop and evolve to supply oxygen and nutrients to the placenta.

But in women with preeclampsia, these blood vessels don't seem to develop or work properly.

Who is at risk?

You could be at risk of developing preeclampsia if:

  • You had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
  • You're having multiples
  • You have chronic high blood pressure
  • You had type 1 or type 2 diabetes before pregnancy
  • You have kidney disease
  • You suffer from autoimmune disorders
  • You had IVF.

Obesity, maternal age and length of time since your last pregnancy can also put you at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia complications

  • Slow fetal growth: Preeclampsia affects the arteries carrying blood to the placenta. If the placenta doesn't get enough blood, the baby mightn't get enough blood and oxygen and fewer nutrients. This can lead to fetal growth restriction.
  • Preterm birth: Preeclampsia may lead to delivery before 37 weeks. Treatments before preterm delivery may decrease some risks to the baby.
  • Placental abruption: This condition means your placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery. Severe abruption can cause heavy bleeding, which can be life-threatening for both the mother and baby.

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