Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and high levels of protein in your urine. It typically develops around the 20th week of pregnancy.
While most individuals with preeclampsia have a successful delivery, early diagnosis and treatment is critical to both your and your baby’s health..
Here’s what to know about the condition, including how to prevent preeclampsia and how to navigate a preeclampsia diagnosis.
High blood pressure is the defining characteristic of preeclampsia. Protein in the urine and retention of water are other common early signs.
In more severe cases of preeclampsia, early delivery is required to protect the health of both the birthing person and baby.
One of the most important things you can do to successfully manage preeclampsia, or any other pregnancy complication, is to attend all of your prenatal appointments and share all of your pregnancy symptoms with your provider.
Like many maternal health issues, preeclampsia is severely under-researched.
As a result, its exact causes have not been fully identified, but it likely originates from a problem with how blood circulates within the placenta.
This issue then leads to irregular blood pressure regulation in a pregnant person.
Research studies have found that you are less likely to have preeclampsia in subsequent pregnancies if you do not have it during your first.
Conversely, if you had preeclampsia during your first pregnancy, you are more likely to have it again — a risk that increases with each subsequent pregnancy.
Since stress affects blood pressure, there is a common misconception that stress is a factor in the development of preeclampsia. However, it is not a direct cause.
(While effectively managing stress is important during pregnancy, remember that some amount of stress is inevitable in life at any time.)
If you experience any symptoms of preeclampsia, consult your doctor for an evaluation. Be prepared to share when your symptoms started.
Make sure your doctor also has all the information about your previous pregnancy, if relevant, including any complications you experienced.
Blood pressure is measured in two numbers. The first number is a measure of systolic blood pressure, which is your blood pressure when your heart contracts. The second is diastolic blood pressure, which is your blood pressure when your heart is relaxed.
While numerous factors can impact a person’s blood pressure, and “normal” varies significantly by individual, the threshold for high blood pressure during pregnancy is typically considered 140/90 mm Hg.
Receiving a preeclampsia diagnosis may feel overwhelming. Ask your provider as many questions as you need to.
All cases of preeclampsia require close monitoring until delivery. For more moderate cases, treatment typically consists of daily blood pressure monitoring at home as well as frequent doctor’s appointments to monitor blood pressure, changes in symptoms, and your baby’s growth.
Severe cases require hospitalization for closer monitoring of blood pressure and potential pregnancy complications.
Healthcare providers frequently recommend preterm delivery. In mild to moderate cases of preeclampsia, preterm delivery is typically planned for after 37 weeks.
In severe cases, a provider may recommend delivery before 37 weeks, depending on your symptoms and your baby’s health. If your preeclampsia affects the placenta, a c section may be necessary.
Preeclampsia typically goes away on its own within days or weeks of childbirth. Some people experience high blood pressure for several weeks. This is treatable with medication.
Continue to see your doctor for treatment and always follow their recommendations.
Those who had preeclampsia during pregnancy have an increased risk for high blood pressure and heart health issues later in life. However, these health issues aren’t inevitable. Your provider can guide you in managing your risk.
Not all cases of preeclampsia are preventable, but if you have an increased risk, there are steps you can take to manage it.
Prioritize your health as much as possible before and during pregnancy, working with your provider to manage any health conditions. Eat nutrient-rich foods, stay physically active, and get enough rest.
Research has found that taking low-dose aspirin during pregnancy can lower your chance of developing preeclampsia.
If you have one or more risk factors, your provider may recommend taking an 81-milligram tablet of aspirin every day, typically beginning after the 12th week of pregnancy.
Always consult a trusted health professional before taking any new medications, vitamins, or supplements.
At Ruth Health, we understand that nobody knows what you need better than you. We provide expert, evidence-based maternal advice so that you can make the best decisions for yourself.
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