The Facts About Preeclampsia: What All Women Should Know

May 19 • 2017

You’ve likely heard of preeclampsia – but do you understand what it is? This condition, which occurs only during pregnancy, impacts 5-8% of all pregnancies. It’s one of the leading causes of maternal and infant death, so knowing how to reduce your risk and recognize the signs is extremely important.

What Causes Preeclampsia?

While the exact cause of preeclampsia isn’t known for sure, there are several factors that can impact it. Most experts believe it starts in the placenta, where blood vessels don’t develop or function properly. This can be caused by an immune issue, damaged blood vessels, limited blood flow to the uterus, or genetic factors.

What are the Symptoms?

Because your body is going through so many changes during pregnancy, it’s important to know what to look for to properly identify preeclampsia sooner rather than later. In its mildest form, symptoms include:

When it has reached a more severe level, symptoms become more varied, like:

  • Changes in vision
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Infrequent urination
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Lower back pain
  • Anxiety
  • Frequent, easy bruising

Reducing Your Risk of Preeclampsia

There are several factors that can increase your risk for preeclampsia. Many of them are, unfortunately, not impacted by lifestyle changes. These are:

  • Having your first pregnancy
  • History of preeclampsia in your family
  • A multiple pregnancy
  • In vitro fertilization
  • Being between the ages of 20 and 40
  • Previous experience with preeclampsia or gestational hypertension

There are a few factors, however, that you can control. Women with high blood pressure or kidney disease prior to pregnancy are at a higher risk for preeclampsia, so lowering your risk for those two conditions before getting pregnant is important. Preeclampsia is also more likely to occur in women who are obese. Make sure you’re enjoying a nutritious, healthy diet and regular exercise.

If you have a history of hypertension in your family or are concerned about other ways you can lower your risk before getting pregnant, speak with your Baptist doctor for personalized recommendations.

Visit Baptist Maternity Care for more information, or find a physician by visiting our Find a Doctor page.