What Is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a disorder diagnosed after 20 weeks of pregnancy that only occurs in pregnant and postpartum women. It is characterized by the new onset of hypertension and evidence of end-organ dysfunction (such as injury to the kidneys, liver, platelets, lungs, brain). Preeclampsia is sometimes called by other names, including pregnancy-induced or pregnancy-associated hypertension and toxemia.

In the United States, preeclampsia occurs in 3 to 4 percent of pregnancies. Ninety percent of these cases occur after 34 weeks of gestation, and mostly at term (after 37 weeks of gestation).

What Are The Risk Factors For Preeclampsia?

Several factors contribute to the onset of preeclampsia, but it’s different for every woman:

  • Age: The condition is more common in women under the age of 20 and over the age over 35 to 40 years
  • Artificial insemination or egg donation
  • Diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, lupus, sickle cell
  • Hypertension before pregnancy
  • History of preeclampsia or family history of it
  • Multiple births such as twins, triplets, and so forth
  • Obesity

Maintaining proper weight and appropriate blood pressure before becoming pregnant may help deter the onset of preeclampsia.

How Is Preeclampsia Diagnosed?

Elevated blood pressure and the presence of preexisting conditions can help your OB/GYN determine the tests you need. Your OB/GYN will order diagnostic tests such as blood tests and a urinalysis. 

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Preeclampsia?

The presence of one or more of the following symptoms doesn’t mean you have the condition, and it’s important to visit your OB-GYN for a proper diagnosis.  Preeclampsia can also be asymptomatic, so routine prenatal exams are vital. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes in vision
  • Dizziness
  • Edema in the extremities 
  • Headaches
  • Hypertension
  • Mental changes
  • Protein in the urine
  • Reduced platelet count
  • Sudden weight gain in a couple of days
  • Vomiting

Is Preeclampsia Serious?

Preeclampsia is a serious medical condition that can be life-threatening for both mother and fetus. It reduces blood flow to the placenta, which can result in lowered birth weight and impaired development. It can also lower amniotic fluid present in the uterus, resulting in the fetus having less protection.

Other complications of preeclampsia include decreased kidney function,  elevated liver enzymes, and reduced platelet levels. In severe cases, seizures can develop and decreased blood flow to the brain could result in a stroke.

How Is Preeclampsia Treated?

There are no long-term treatment protocols for preeclampsia. Interim short-term treatments include blood pressure medication, bed rest, and IV magnesium for severe cases.

For those who have mild preeclampsia and whose baby isn’t showing signs of distress, induction of labor may be recommended. For severe cases of preeclampsia a C-section may be necessary to help protect the mother and baby.

What’s The Prognosis For Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia has a recurrence rate between 25 and 65 percent for more severe cases, those with mild preeclampsia have a 5 to 7 percent recurrence rate in future pregnancies. Women who experience preeclampsia may be at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease as they age.

Do You Think You Have Preeclampsia?

If you think you have preeclampsia or you have a history of a preeclampsia in a prior pregnancy, call Northside/Northpoint OB-GYN in Atlanta, GA. The doctors at Northside/Northpoint OB-GYN are highly trained in treating women with new onset preeclampsia and women with a history of hypertension in pregnancy.

Skip to content