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What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is high blood pressure (130/80 or higher) that develops after week 20 of your pregnancy. You may also have protein in your urine. Normal blood pressure is 119/79 or lower. It is important to get screened and treated for high blood pressure during pregnancy. This can prevent problems for you and your baby.

What are the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia?

You may not have any symptoms. Severe preeclampsia may cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Swollen face and hands
  • A sudden weight gain of 5 pounds or more
  • Headache
  • Spotted or blurred vision
  • Pain in your upper abdomen

What increases my risk for preeclampsia?

  • First pregnancy
  • Pregnant with twins or multiples
  • Personal or family history of preeclampsia or eclampsia
  • Overweight
  • Diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease
  • Age older than 40 years

How is preeclampsia diagnosed?

  • A blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg or higher for at least 2 readings, 4 hours apart, may mean you have preeclampsia. Your blood pressure will need to be checked 1 to 2 times a week until your baby is born.
  • Blood tests are done to check your liver and kidney function. You may need blood tests every week while you are pregnant.
  • Urine tests are used to check for protein. You may need to give healthcare providers a urine sample at each visit. You may also need to collect your urine every time you urinate for 24 hours.

How will my unborn baby be monitored?

You may need to keep track of how often your baby moves or kicks over a certain amount of time. Ask your healthcare provider how to do kick counts and how often to do them. You may also need the following tests at each visit until your baby is born:

  • A fetal biophysical profile combines a nonstress test and an ultrasound of your unborn baby. The nonstress test measures changes in your baby's heartbeat when he or she moves. The ultrasound will show your baby's movement, growth, and how his or her breathing muscles are working. Healthcare providers can check the amount of fluid around your baby. The ultrasound will also show how well your baby's lungs are working.
  • An umbilical cord Doppler checks blood flow through the umbilical cord.

How is preeclampsia treated?

  • Medicines may be given to lower your blood pressure, protect your organs, or prevent seizures. Low doses of aspirin after 12 weeks of pregnancy may be recommended if you are at high risk for preeclampsia. Aspirin may help prevent preeclampsia or problems that can happen from preeclampsia. Do not take aspirin unless directed by your healthcare provider.
  • Rest as directed. Your healthcare provider may tell you to rest more often if you have mild symptoms of preeclampsia. Lie on your left side as often as you can. You may need complete bedrest if you have more severe symptoms. You may need to be in the hospital if your condition worsens.
  • Delivery usually stops preeclampsia. Healthcare providers may deliver your baby right away if he or she is full-term (37 weeks or more). He or she may need to be delivered early if you or the baby has life-threatening symptoms.

What are the risks of preeclampsia?

Your baby may not grow as he or she should and may need to be delivered early. Placental abruption can occur if the placenta pulls away from the uterus too soon. This condition is life-threatening for your baby. High blood pressure that is not controlled can lead to blood clots, kidney or liver failure, or stroke. Severe preeclampsia can cause seizures or coma. This condition is called eclampsia. Eclampsia is a life-threatening condition for you and your unborn baby.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have a seizure.
  • You have severe abdominal pain with nausea and vomiting.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You develop a severe headache that does not go away.
  • You have blurred or spotted vision that does not go away.
  • You are bleeding from your vagina.
  • You have new or increased swelling in your face or hands.
  • You are urinating little or not at all.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are urinating less than usual.
  • You do not feel your baby's movements as often as usual.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Preeclampsia

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