What is preeclampsia?
5/16/2022 by Shennin Hudoba, M.D.
Preeclampsia is a complication that can occur in the second half of pregnancy. It is defined by elevated blood pressure and damage to another organ system, such as your liver or kidneys.
Most women do not notice any symptoms of preeclampsia.
If preeclampsia is severe, you could experience:
- Headaches that are not relieved with acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Changes in vision, including blurry vision, spots or flashing lights.
- Upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs.
Testing for preeclampsia
During each prenatal visit, your health care professional will closely monitor your blood pressure to screen for preeclampsia. if your blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mmHg, or millimeters of mercury, this may prompt further blood pressure monitoring, and possible blood and urine testing. Both elevated blood pressure and abnormal blood and urine testing are needed to diagnose preeclampsia.
How preeclampsia affects your baby, pregnancy
Preeclampsia can affect the growth of your baby and decrease the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby. If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia, your baby would be closely monitored with ultrasound and testing before birth.
The only treatment for preeclampsia is to deliver your baby. Depending on the severity of your preeclampsia, your health care professional may recommend that labor is induced earlier than your due date. Induction of labor could include medications to jump-start your labor process. In some cases, a cesarean delivery may be needed.
You also will receive a medication during labor to prevent seizures, as some women with preeclampsia can experience seizures.
While you can't prevent preeclampsia, it's important to attend all prenatal visits so that your blood pressure can be monitored regularly.
At your initial prenatal visit, you may be asked about possible risk factors for preeclampsia. This will include if you have had preeclampsia before or if you have a family history of preeclampsia. If you are considered at higher risk for preeclampsia, your health care professional may recommend that you take aspirin during your pregnancy. Do not take aspirin, unless directed by your health care professional.
Effects of preeclampsia affect pregnancy
Having preeclampsia while pregnant can increase your likelihood of having high blood pressure and heart disease later in life. Make sure your primary care provider is aware of your health history of preeclampsia so that further discussion can take place on how to lower your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease in the future.
Shennin Hudoba, M.D., is a physician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Department of Family Medicine. She completed her medical degree at Loyola Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and her residency in family medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her interests include medical education and women's health.