Signs & Symptoms of Preeclampsia

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signs and symptoms of preeclampsia

Pregnancy is a confusing time. Lots of changes take place in a woman’s body, and it can be difficult to tell the difference between the normal effects of pregnancy and signs of complications. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia to prepare yourself.

Preeclampsia affects roughly 5 – 8% of pregnancies. The condition only occurs during pregnancy, after week 20 of gestation. It causes high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine of expectant mothers. Preeclampsia also results in decreased blood flow, and therefore decreased food and oxygen, to the developing fetus.

Signs and Symptoms of Mild Preeclampsia

Often, preeclampsia presents no noticeable symptoms, which is why it can be so dangerous. If a pregnant woman does have preeclampsia, her blood pressure will elevate, she will retain water and there will be elevated amounts of protein in the urine.  Weight gain exceeding 2 pounds per week as well as swelling of the hands or face can be a sign of preeclampsia.

Signs and Symptoms of Severe Preeclampsia

If undetected, mild preeclampsia can worsen, causing headaches, changes in vision, sensitivity to light, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, infrequent urination, pain in the abdomen and back, or a tendency to bruise easily. The nausea and vomiting associated with severe preeclampsia is different than “morning sickness.” Morning sickness usually abates after the first trimester; when nausea and vomiting reappear later in pregnancy, it is cause for alarm.

Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, Low Platelet count (HELLP) Syndrome

HELLP syndrome is a rare, but life-threatening, condition that causes the breakdown of red blood cells and complications with the liver, blood clotting and blood pressure.  Closely linked with preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome can develop before or after delivery.

Risk Factors of Preeclampsia

While the causes of preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome are unknown, there are certain risk factors associated with the conditions. These include:

  • Previous or family history of preeclampsia
  • First pregnancies
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Multiple pregnancies (twins or more)
  • Diabetes or kidney disease
  • Pre-pregnancy high blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Age (35 or older)

Treatment of Preeclampsia

At each prenatal doctor’s visit, blood pressure and urine protein levels should be monitored. If problems arise, healthcare providers may conduct a series of tests or prescribe a range of treatment options for preeclampsia. This may include:

  • Bed rest
  • Lying on the left side
  • Increased water intake
  • Reduced salt in diet
  • More frequent doctor’s visits
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Hospitalization

The only way to completely resolve preeclampsia is to deliver the baby. If the pregnancy is far enough along, the baby should be delivered as soon as possible, either by induced labor or cesarean section.

When To Contact Your Healthcare Provider

Never hesitate to contact your doctor with questions or concerns about your pregnancy. But, if you notice any mid-term pregnancy vomiting, sudden weight gain, abdominal or shoulder pain, shortness of breath or changes in vision, contact your doctor immediately.

signs and symptoms of preeclampsia infographic

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