doctor testing pregnant woman's blood pressure

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Preeclampsia: what you need to know

Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication. It's usually diagnosed after week 20 when high blood pressure (hypertension) and protein in the urine are detected, potentially with other problems like impaired kidney or liver function.

If left untreated, preeclampsia can have devastating consequences for both you and your baby. That said, most people who receive treatment for this condition give birth to healthy infants.

What are the effects of preeclampsia?

The early warning signs of preeclampsia can be subtle. You might experience headaches, nausea, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, swelling, or dizziness. Since these can also be  normal pregnancy symptoms, it can be hard to tell what is cause for concern. However, if these signs are accompanied by high blood pressure, it could mean you have preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia can make it difficult for the placenta to receive nutrients and pass them along to your growing baby. It can also result in placental abruption, a potentially fatal complication in which the placenta detaches from the uterus.

Preeclampsia could turn into eclampsia, which is characterized by seizures. Eclampsia is a medical emergency, as it can be life-threatening to the expecting parent and their baby.

What are the risk factors for developing preeclampsia?

Any pregnant person can develop preeclampsia, though some have a higher risk than others. Those with one or more of these risk factors are more likely to suffer from the complication:

  • Chronic hypertension
  • Family or personal history of preeclampsia
  • History of headaches or kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Carrying multiples
  • Diabetes

How do you test for preeclampsia?

To test for preeclampsia, your healthcare provider will check your urine for protein and take your blood pressure. If high blood pressure or protein is detected, you'll most likely be retested and potentially monitored for other symptoms to confirm whether you have the complication.

How do you treat preeclampsia?

Since preeclampsia can be life-threatening, the most effective treatment is delivery. However, depending on how far along you are, this can be a risk too. In some cases, the symptoms can be treated with things including blood pressure medication, corticosteroids to support liver function, or magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. Also, bed rest or hospitalization will likely be recommended before delivery.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
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