Preeclampsia is a condition that can occur during pregnancy. It is characterized by high blood pressure and increased levels of protein in the urine. In rare/severe cases, preeclampsia can lead to other problems such as seizures, growth problems in babies, kidney/liver dysfunction, or bleeding.
Preeclampsia affects around 5-8 percent of all pregnancies and occurs more often in first time mothers, older women, and women with other risk factors (e.g. twin pregnancies or women with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure outside of pregnancy, diabetes, or obesity).
Know the signs
Signs of preeclampsia include:
- Sudden weight gain
- Changes in vision
Preeclampsia does not usually occur until the 3rd trimester, but if you are experiencing any of these symptoms in any trimester, it is important to check in with your doctor.
Although we have known about preeclampsia for centuries, its direct causes are still unknown. The only cure is the delivery of your baby. In some serious cases, an early delivery could be recommended to ensure the health and safety of you and your child.
While preeclampsia resolves after birth, research has found it has long-term health consequences. Women with a history of preeclampsia are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease later in life. Preeclampsia can serve as a warning, allowing you to take measures to reduce your heart disease risk.
The American Heart Association recommends that women who have had preeclampsia:
- Stop cigarette smoking
- Follow a heart healthy diet
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
- Make sure their primary care physician is aware about their history of preeclampsia
Louise E. Wilkins-Haug, MD, PhD, is the Division Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine and Reproductive Genetics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Sarah Elizabeth Little, MD, MPH, is a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.