Understanding Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a health condition that develops during pregnancy and is characterized by the presence of high blood pressure. The condition typically appears somewhere around 20 weeks into pregnancy or later and exists in between 5% and 8% of all pregnancies.

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This serious condition doesn’t only affect pregnant women, but also their unborn babies, and can lead to fatal complications for both when left untreated. In fact, preeclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death throughout the world.

What are the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia?

Elevated blood pressure that rises gradually or suddenly is the main symptom of preeclampsia. The Mayo Clinic explains that if your blood pressure exceeds 140/90 on two separate occasions that are at least four hours apart, this is an indication that your blood pressure is abnormally high.

In addition to high blood pressure, a woman with preeclampsia will also often have the presence of excess protein in her urine and signs of damage to another organ system such as the kidneys and liver. Other signs and symptoms include swelling in the hands or face (edema), severe headaches, sudden weight gain, pain in the upper abdomen, a decrease in urine output, shortness of breath, and changes to vision including blurred vision, light sensitivity, and temporary vision loss.

Is preeclampsia treatable?

Some women suffering from preeclampsia are treated with antihypertensive medications that can lower their blood pressure or medication that’s used to prevent seizures. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, giving birth is the most effective way to treat the condition, though it can still take a while for a woman’s condition to improve even after delivery.

It’s important to monitor your blood pressure during pregnancy and be in touch with your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned. Prenatal care that involves regularly testing your blood pressure, testing your urine for protein, and checking your weight is extremely important, as for many women, preeclampsia may not present any obvious symptoms.

The Preeclampsia Foundation also recommends a balanced and healthy prenatal diet with reduced consumption of refined sugars, caffeine, and processed foods. They also stress the importance of letting your prenatal care provider know about all medications and supplements prescribed by other physicians.

What happens after pregnancy?

Some women develop a condition called postpartum preeclampsia, which is when the preeclampsia sets in somewhere between two days and six weeks after a baby has been delivered. It’s most common in the first week after delivery and can occur both in women who maintain normal blood pressure during pregnancy and those who experience preeclampsia during their pregnancy.

In addition to high blood pressure, women who are suffering from postpartum preeclampsia may experience symptoms including severe headaches, nausea or vomiting, changes in vision such as seeing spots, shortness of breath, swelling in the face or hands, and pain in the upper abdomen. This is a very serious condition that puts women at risk of seizure, stroke, organ damage, and even death, so it’s very important to be in touch with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Proper prenatal care is very important in order to detect and manage preeclampsia. If you have any questions or concerns about preeclampsia and want to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, contact Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.

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