Preeclampsia

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that may happen after the 20th week of pregnancy. It means that you develop high blood pressure and have more than the usual amount of protein in your urine. Severe preeclampsia affects your blood cells, kidneys, liver, brain, and other organs. It can cause serious problems for you and your baby. If the high blood pressure causes seizures, the disease is called eclampsia.

What is the cause?

The cause of preeclampsia is not known. You have a higher risk if:

  • It is your first pregnancy.
  • You are younger than 25 or older than 35.
  • You had problems with high blood pressure before you were pregnant.
  • You have kidney disease or diabetes.
  • You are pregnant with more than 1 baby.
  • You have had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy.
  • Your mother or a sister has had preeclampsia.

What are the symptoms?

If you have mild preeclampsia, you may not have any symptoms. You should go to all prenatal checkups so your healthcare provider can monitor your health.

A common symptom of mild preeclampsia is more than normal puffiness or swelling of your hands, feet, or face. Symptoms of more severe preeclampsia may include:

  • Sudden weight gain (3 to 5 pounds within 5 to 7 days)
  • Changes or problems with your vision
  • Severe headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Urinating less than normal
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bruising more easily
  • Seizures, which means you have eclampsia

If you have any of these symptoms during the second half of pregnancy, call your healthcare provider right away. Seizures can be life-threatening. If you have a seizure, someone should call 911.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will measure your blood pressure and test your urine at each prenatal checkup. Blood tests can confirm the diagnosis and check for how it is affecting your body.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on how close you are to your due date. If your due date is near and your baby has developed enough, your provider may deliver the baby. If your baby has not developed enough and the preeclampsia is not too severe, your healthcare provider may wait to deliver the baby. You may need to stay in the hospital to be monitored.

If your provider says that it’s OK for you to be at home until it’s time to deliver your baby, you may need to:

  • Rest in bed, lying on your left side as much as possible to take the weight of the baby off your major blood vessels.
  • Check your blood pressure at home.
  • See your healthcare provider more often for checkups, which may include blood and urine tests and tests to monitor your baby’s health.
  • Take medicines.

When it’s time to deliver the baby, you may be given a medicine to prevent seizures.

For most women all of the symptoms of preeclampsia go away within 7 days after delivery. There are a few women who will have related problems for several weeks.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Put your feet up several times during the day.
  • Ask your provider:
    • How long it will take to recover
    • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent high blood pressure and preeclampsia during pregnancy?

  • There is no sure way to prevent preeclampsia. If you have a risk for preeclampsia, your provider may recommend that you take low doses of aspirin or calcium every day.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about your personal and family medical history and your lifestyle habits. This will help you know what you can do to lower your risk for complications during pregnancy. For example:
    • Eat a healthy diet. Use little or no added salt in your meals. Don’t eat a lot of fried foods and junk food.
    • Try to keep a healthy weight during your pregnancy. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should expect to gain.
    • Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
    • Stay fit with the right kind of exercise for you.
    • Do not drink alcohol.
    • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit.
  • If you have diabetes or kidney disease, follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for treatment.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-08
Last reviewed: 2014-07-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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