What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a serious condition that develops only during pregnancy. This condition causes high blood pressure and other symptoms like headaches, trouble with your vision, stomach pain and swelling in your feet, hands and face. These may develop as the condition gets worse.
Preeclampsia usually occurs at the end of your pregnancy but as early as 20 weeks into your pregnancy. Diagnosing and treating preeclampsia early is very important. If not treated early, it can cause serious problems for you and your baby. One problem it can lead to is eclampsia (seizure in pregnancy), which is a condition that causes muscle jerking or shaking.

What causes preeclampsia?

The cause of preeclampsia is not known. You may be more likely to develop preeclampsia if you have these risk factors, which include:

  • Being pregnant for the first time
  • Having preeclampsia in a past pregnancy
  • Having a family history of preeclampsia
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Being pregnant with twins or triplets
  • Being 40 or older
  • Having kidney disease or diabetes
  • Having a blood disorder such as lupus
  • Being very overweight (obese)

What are the symptoms?

The earliest signs of preeclampsia are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased protein in your urine (Your doctor will check for this at every pregnancy appointment during your antenatal care)

Other symptoms that can develop include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Feeling sick (nauseous) and throwing up (vomiting)
  • Vision problems (blurred or double vision or seeing dots floating before your eyes)
  • Numbness and swelling in your face, arms, legs, and/or feet
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Abdominal pain

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about any symptoms and check for signs of preeclampsia during your pregnancy exams. You may also have tests, including:

  • Urine test
  • Blood test
  • Fetal monitoring (checking your baby’s heart rate)

How is it treated?

You and your doctor will work out the best treatment together for a healthy pregnancy

  • It is very important to come to all of your appointments for your pregnancy. If you have an increased risk of preeclampsia, you may need more frequent  hospital appointments
  • You may need to take medicine to lower your blood pressure if your condition does not get better
  • You may need to stay in the hospital if your condition worsens
  • If you get admitted into the hospital your treatment will focus on controlling your blood pressure and fluid buildup. You may also need to take medicine to prevent seizures or convulsions
  • If the condition gets worse, your baby may need to be delivered early to protect you and the baby. You may have your labor started with medicine (be induced), or you may have surgery to deliver the baby (cesarean)
  • Preeclampsia usually goes away after the baby is born
  • The high blood pressure seen in preeclampsia usually is resolved by 12 weeks. Your blood pressure should be checked after your pregnancy to ensure that it is back to normal.

How is it managed?

The best way to manage high blood pressure in pregnancy and preeclampsia is to have regular medical check up, to check for high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, you should follow your doctor’s instructions in order to keep your blood pressure normal or controlled. It is also important to eat healthy food and exercise regularly.