What You Need To Know About Preeclampsia

May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month and the right time to discuss this complication of pregnancy.

While the vast majority of pregnant women will never experience it, preeclampsia does affect 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies. It generally occurs after your 20th week of pregnancy and up until 6 weeks following delivery. While the exact cause is unknown, we do know that if you have diabetes, chronic high blood pressure, previous history of preeclampsia, kidney disease, or lupus, you are at a high risk of developing the condition. Other moderate risk factors include:

• being over 40
• over 10 years from your last pregnancy
• obesity
• IVF pregnancy
• first pregnancy
• being African American
• being from a lower socioeconomic status.

Unfortunately, once you develop preeclampsia, delivery may be required to prevent complications to you or your baby.  Limited studies have shown that mothers with the above conditions have improved outcomes when seen by a maternal-fetal medicine specialist prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Untreated severe cases of preeclampsia can temporarily affect your liver and kidneys, cause abnormalities in your blood from clotting properly, and result in seizures.  Because not all women experience symptoms in advance of complications, we can’t over-stress how critical it is for you to have regular prenatal visits, maintain a healthy diet and exercise program and take your prescribed vitamins.

If you have any of the following symptoms, even if they don’t seem like they’re that serious to you, please contact your obstetrician immediately.

7 major warning signs of Preeclampsia

  1. High blood pressure: a nurse should take your blood pressure at every visit. If you are at higher risk for preeclampsia, you may want to invest in your own monitor and work with a nurse at your doctor’s office to learn how to use it properly. A resting blood pressure higher than 140/90 is considered high.
  2. Protein in your urine: You should have a urine sample taken at every visit to test for protein.
  3. Sudden weight gain of 2 pounds or more in a week after 20 weeks of gestation.
  4. Nausea or vomiting. While this is normal in the first trimester, if it comes on suddenly during your second trimester, call your doctor.  Especially when associated with pain in your middle upper abdomen.
  5. Swelling of your face or hands: While some swelling (edema) in your feet is considered normal during pregnancy, swelling in other areas of your body could indicate elevated blood pressure.
  6. Headaches: Severe headaches that don’t go away with over the counter pain relief—or that cause vision problems—should be reported to your doctor immediately.
  7. Vision problems: Blurred vision, flashing lights, light sensitivity or any other vision issues are serious signs of a problem and you should see your doctor immediately or go directly to the hospital.

You can decrease your risk.

The good news is that just taking a low dose aspirin can prevent many cases of preeclampsia.  An 81 mg aspirin started prior to 16 weeks can decrease the risk of preeclampsia by 50% and the risk of early onset preeclampsia prior to 34 weeks by 80% or more.  Due to the effects of aspirin, you should discuss with your physician your risk factors before you initiate this therapy.  Additionally, a new test on the market that combines a small blood sample as well as blood flow measurements to the uterus at around 12-13 weeks of pregnancy may detect a very high percentage of cases of preeclampsia that occur prior to 34 weeks.  This test may streamline the amount of patients with risk factors requiring close follow up during pregnancy and improve proper aspirin usage.