Preeclampsia: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Table of Contents


Table of Contents

In pregnancy, the risk for preeclampsia is quite common and is caused by high blood pressure and other signs of damage to other organ systems like the liver and kidneys. 

It usually begins in the postpartum weeks or generally after the 20 weeks of pregnancy. However, if the signs of preeclampsia are left unnoticed or left without treatment, it could lead to serious complications in both the baby and the mother.

In case you find signs of preeclampsia when you’re pregnant, the most effective treatment is to deliver the baby. But this doesn’t provide any guarantee of not staying post the delivery and will perhaps take some time to aid.

On the other hand, if you find symptoms of preeclampsia in the early trimester of your pregnancy which is of course too early for delivery, the healthcare provider and you will be in quite a challenging spot. This means you will now have to be very cautious with your health until the baby is mature and can be delivered.

Preeclampsia in pregnant women is rarely developed post the delivery of a baby known as postpartum preeclampsia but has no guarantee of going away immediately. To know more about the causes, symptoms, and precautions of preeclampsia, read on!

Symptoms of Preeclampsia alongside high blood pressure

Preeclampsia is a few cases that develop in the absence of any symptoms, however, there are a few things you can look for. One of these includes a sudden rise in blood pressure that is the most common and vital part of prenatal care. The pressure can exceed 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or even greater, on two occasions, four hours apart, which is abnormal.

  • The other signs and symptoms include:
  • Excess protein in the urine (proteinuria) or any other sign of kidney problems
  • Headaches
  • A sudden changes in the vision, like temporary loss, blurred, or light sensitivity vision
  • Pain in the upper abdominal, under the ribs on the right side
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Less urine output
  • Lowering of the platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia)
  • Impaired functioning of the liver
  • Shortened breath due to the fluid in the lungs

Edema or a sudden weight gain and swelling in your face and hands is also a sign, but because it is common in pregnancies, it isn’t considered a reliable sign for preeclampsia.

Causes of preeclampsia

There are several factors that involve the cause of preeclampsia, and the experts believe that it begins in the placenta (the organ that nourishes the fetus). In the early stages of pregnancy, the new blood vessels develop to efficiently send blood to the placenta.

Thus, women with preeclampsia do not develop the blood vessels or fail to function properly as they are narrower compared to the normal blood vessels. It reacts differently to hormonal signaling, limiting the amount of blood flow.

Here are the causes of this abnormal development:

  • There is insufficient blood flow to the uterus
  • Damage the blood vessels
  • Causes trouble in the immune system

Other disorders during pregnancy besides blood pressure

Preeclampsia is considered to be one of the four high blood pressure disorders during pregnancy. The other three are:

  • Gestational hypertension: Women with this disorder have high blood pressure, no excess protein in the urine, or any other signs of organ damage. Also, in a few cases, women eventually develop preeclampsia.
  • Chronic hypertension: This is a high blood pressure disorder that is present prior to the pregnancy or develops that occurs 20 weeks before pregnancy. However, it is hard to determine as high blood pressure usually doesn’t have any symptoms.
  • Chronic hypertension with superimposed Preeclampsia: This disorder develops in women who are diagnosed with chronic high blood pressure prior to their pregnancy. This develops, worsening the high blood pressure and protein in the urine or even various other health complications in pregnancy.

Risk of Preeclampsia

Here are the cases where you might have the risk of Preeclampsia during pregnancy:

  • You have had a history of Preeclampsia

If you have a history of preeclampsia in your personal or family history, there is a risk of you getting it.

  • Facing chronic hypertension

There is a higher chance in women who have chronic hypertension.

  • First pregnancy

A first pregnancy has the highest chances of developing preeclampsia.

  • Different paternity

In case each pregnancy has a new partner, the chances of getting diagnosed with preeclampsia is high as compared to the second or third pregnancy with the same partner.

  • Your age

The risk of preeclampsia is higher in women who are younger or older than 35.

  • The Ethnicity

As per the studies of the American Heart Association in Boston, preeclampsia happens to affect black women more compared to women of other races. This results due to racial disbalance and health conditions.

  • Obesity

Women with obesity have a higher risk of preeclampsia.

  • Multiple pregnancies

There could be a risk of preeclampsia if you are carrying twins, triplets, or other multiples.

  • If there are intervals between pregnancies

If you are having babies in less than two years or within a gap of more than 10 years, there is a higher risk of preeclampsia.

  • A history of certain conditions

Conditions like chronic high blood pressure, migraines, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, blood clots development, or lupus prior to your pregnancy increases the risk of preeclampsia.

  • In vitro fertilization

If you have conceived via in vitro fertilization, there are chances of getting diagnosed with preeclampsia.

Complications of Preeclampsia

The earlier the occurrence of preeclampsia in women, the more severe the condition is in your pregnancy, resulting in greater risks for both you and your baby. It may require inducing labor and delivery via C-section necessary in cases of clinical or obstetric conditions for a speedy delivery.

Here is a list of the other complications of preeclampsia:

  • Restriction in fetal growth

As mentioned earlier, preeclampsia affects the arteries that carry blood to the placenta, and if the placenta doesn’t receive enough blood, it affects the baby with inadequate blood, oxygen, and fewer nutrients, restricting the healthy growth, birth weight or preterm birth.

  • Preterm birth

If you have severe preeclampsia, the doctor would recommend an early delivery considering the health of the baby and the mother. Therefore, timing the birth post the acceptable growth of the fetus is important to avoid any breathing problem in the immature baby.

  • Placental abruption

Preeclampsia includes the risk of placental abruption, which results in the separation of the placenta from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery, causing heavy bleeding that can be harmful for the mother and the baby.

  • HELLP syndrome

HELLP or hemolysis (the destruction of red blood cells) is a more severe form of preeclampsia that elevates the liver enzymes and lowers the platelet count. It is a life-threatening situation for both the mother and the baby. Therefore, be aware of the symptoms of HELLP syndrome that include nausea, vomiting, headache, and upper right abdominal pain. It is dangerous as it represents to damage several organ systems and can develop instantly, even before high blood pressure is detected.

  • Eclampsia

This is basically preeclampsia plus seizures that are difficult to predict in patients. There are hardly any symptoms to predict it, so doctors opt for early delivery.

  • Other organ damage

Preeclampsia tends to damage other organs like the kidneys, liver, lung, heart, or eyes, and even a stroke or brain injury. However, the injury depends on the severity of preeclampsia.

  • Cardiovascular disease

If diagnosed with preeclampsia, it increases the risk of heart and blood vessels,that is, cardiovascular disease. In case you have had preeclampsia more than once or have had a preterm delivery, the risk is even more. To minimize it, you must maintain the ideal weight by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking.

How to prevent Preeclampsia?

There are no clear strategies to prevent preeclampsia in pregnant women, but there are a few things you could follow. These include:

  • Low-doses of aspirin

If in your pregnancy you tend to meet most of the risk factors, like having a history of preeclampsia, multiple pregnancy, chronic high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes, the doctor would recommend a daily low-dose aspirin (81 milligrams) to begin after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

  • Calcium supplements

In most populations, women with calcium deficiency prior to their pregnancy, and those who do not get enough calcium during pregnancy via their diets, benefit from calcium supplements to prevent preeclampsia. However, it could be unlikely for women from the US or other developed countries to have calcium deficiency to a degree where the calcium supplements would benefit them.

Note – Do not have any medications or vitamin supplements without consulting or talking to your doctor. Also, before you’re pregnant, especially in cases where you’ve had preeclampsia before, it’s a good idea to be as healthy as you can, lose weight if needed, and manage certain conditions like diabetes to avoid and prevent a health hazard during your pregnancy.

When pregnancy, take extra care of yourself and the baby via early and regular prenatal care. And, in case you have preeclampsia detected in your early pregnancy, do not overstress yourself. The doctor may follow a few tests to prevent any complications.

When must you see a healthcare provider?

There are no chances or choices given in cases of preeclampsia, you must make sure to attend all prenatal visits to prevent any pregnancy complications. In case you experience severe headaches, blurred vision, abdomen pain, or shortness of breath, visit the doctor immediately.

This is to prevent any health of the baby, as headaches, nausea, and aches are common pregnancy complaints, which makes it difficult to decipher if it indicates preeclampsia or is simply a part of pregnancy, especially in the first pregnancy. Also, if there are any other symptoms and you are concerned, contact your doctor.

Final Thoughts

Preeclampsia is quite a common symptom seen in pregnant women and is perhaps curable. However, due to the commonality of the signs they could be mistaken to be a common pregnancy symptom that could lead to becoming problematic and cause severe pregnancy complications. Therefore, it is very important to know and help prevent preeclampsia when diagnosed in regular health checkups. Stay healthy, stay safe!

Preeclampsia FAQs:

1) How can you reduce the risk of preeclampsia naturally?

Here are a few ways to prevent preeclampsia naturally:
  • Have adequate amounts of salt and electrolytes.
  • Follow a lower-carb, low-glycemic diet.
  • Consume good amounts of protein, especially those that are rich in glycine.
  • Consider magnesium supplements.
  • Consume enough choline.
  • 2) When to be worried about preeclampsia?

    As soon as you catch signs of preeclampsia, you must contact your doctor in need of regular prenatal visits. If severe, meaning if you are facing pain in the abdomen, shortness of breath, headaches, or changes in the vision, go straight to the emergency room. This is because it is quite difficult to differentiate between a normal pregnancy symptom and the signs of preeclampsia.

    3) What is the best treatment for preeclampsia?

    The best and foremost treatment for preeclampsia is delivery. The other treatments include:
  • Prescribed medications to lower your blood pressure known as antihypertensives.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Anticonvulsant medications.
  • On behalf of the editorial team at Parenthoodbliss, we follow strict reporting guidelines and only use credible sources, along with peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and highly respected health organizations. To learn about how we maintain content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

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