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All About Preeclampsia In Pregnancy

Preeclampsia
Written by: Kelsey Reichery LIU Post Dietetic Interns
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO

In This Article:

★ WHAT IS PREECLAMPSIA?

★ SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PREECLAMPSIA

★ HOW IS PREECLAMPSIA DIAGNOSED?

★ PREECLAMPSIA SWELLING VS NORMAL SWELLING

★ HOW CAN YOU PREVENT PREECLAMPSIA?

★ HOW EARLY DO YOU DELIVER WITH PREECLAMPSIA

★ WHAT FOODS TO AVOID IF YOU HAVE PREECLAMPSIA?

★ HOW DOES PREECLAMPSIA AFFECT THE BABY?

★ CAN YOU HAVE A HEALTHY BABY WITH PREECLAMPSIA?

As a mom, making sure the baby is healthy is our top priority. Something we hope never happens are issues during pregnancy. Since things are never perfect, some complications do happen to mothers, and one of these complications is preeclampsia. 

Read on to learn more about preeclampsia risk factors, foods to avoid with preeclampsia, prevention, postpartum preeclampsia and when do they induce for pre-eclampsia. 

★ WHAT IS PREECLAMPSIA?

Preeclampsia is a condition that develops during pregnancy or after childbirth, typically when women have high blood pressure, excess protein in the urine, and swelling in the hands, feet, and legs. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, preeclampsia complicates 2-8% of pregnancies globally.

★ SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PREECLAMPSIA

Although preeclampsia cannot always be totally prevented, it’s important to know the symptoms. Visiting the obstetrician, gynecologist, or other healthcare providers regularly during pregnancy is a great way to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Think of them as you and your baby’s best friends during pregnancy. 

Early signs of preeclampsia include:

  • Severe headaches 
  • Light sensitivity and changes in vision 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Swelling in hands, feet and face. (Look out for sudden weight gain.) 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Pain in the belly area 
  • Urinating less than usual

If you experience any of these symptoms, share with your doctor immediately! If you have one blood pressure reading that is considerably higher than your usual range or considered high risk for preeclampsia, your doctor may have you come in for additional testing.

★ HOW IS PREECLAMPSIA DIAGNOSED?

A preeclampsia diagnosis could be made through blood tests, blood pressure monitoring, and urine tests. The ACOG no longer requires protein to be present in urine samples for preeclampsia to be diagnosed. It is now diagnosed by persistent high blood pressure or the new development of decreased blood platelets. 

*As a tip for reading blood pressure; systolic pressure is reading the pressure that your heart exerts as it beats, and the diastolic pressure is reading the pressure of your arteries between beats. 120/80 mmHg is a normal blood pressure reading. Preeclampsia blood pressure may show as a systolic blood pressure of 140, and a diastolic blood pressure of 90 which is a high reading.

Your doctor can diagnose you with either mild or severe preeclampsia. Here are the differences between the two: 

Mild preeclampsia symptoms→ this means you have gestational hypertension (high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy), and protein has been found in your urine. 

Severe preeclampsia symptoms→ this means that you have a blood pressure of 160/110 mmHg or higher, a low platelet count, fluid in your lungs, low urine production, and decreased function of your liver or kidneys. 

★ PREECLAMPSIA SWELLING VS NORMAL SWELLING

Yes, swelling during pregnancy can be a normal thing, but swelling with preeclampsia can be a bit different. Moms with preeclampsia may experience sudden and significantly more than normal amounts of swelling in the face, around the eyes, in the hands and in the legs. Normal swelling would look something like this; swelling in the fingers, legs, feet, and ankles that usually feels worse by the end of the day and comes on slowly and gradually.

★ HOW CAN YOU PREVENT PREECLAMPSIA?

Research doesn’t show the exact cause of preeclampsia. Yes, this is frustrating to pregnant moms who already have so much to worry about, as moms want to ensure that the baby is as healthy as possible. 

However, there are some ways to reduce the risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy, even before actually becoming pregnant. These include losing weight if you’re overweight, exercising regularly, stop smoking, and getting blood pressure and blood sugar under control if diabetic. These are all good lifestyle choices that should be focused on (and what your doctor recommends), even when you’re not trying to get pregnant. 

Making sure that YOU are healthy before wanting to create a healthy baby is so important! No matter how hard we try, these are some unavoidable factors that create a higher risk of developing preeclampsia, such as; 

  • Having a history of preeclampsia, or preeclampsia existing in the family 
  • First time mothers
  • Age and race 
  • Carrying more than one baby 
  • Genetics 
  • Being a teen, or being over the age of 40 

★ HOW EARLY DO YOU DELIVER WITH PREECLAMPSIA?

Preeclampsia may occur as early as 20 weeks into your pregnancy. It may come earlier, but this is more of a rare case. Usually, it is diagnosed around 34 weeks or later. Your doctor may decide that delivering the baby as soon as possible would be most beneficial when diagnosed. 

If your baby is fully developed (37 weeks or more), then your doctor will most likely decide on inducing labor or doing a Cesarean section. If the baby is less than 37 weeks and still needs some developing, then preeclampsia treatment can take place until it's a safe time to deliver. 

If diagnosed with severe preeclampsia, your baby may need to be delivered ASAP. It may sound scary, but severe preeclampsia earlier in pregnancy means more risk factors to both mom and baby. Sometimes women who have been diagnosed with severe preeclampsia have had a history of high blood pressure, or have previously been diagnosed with preeclampsia or kidney disease

Interestingly enough, preeclampsia after birth may also occur, where moms experience symptoms within 48 hours after delivery. In this case, you may get to stay at home or in the hospital on bed rest and undergo monitoring and ultrasounds. You may be prescribed certain medicines that help lower your blood pressure. And of course, urine and blood tests will need to be taken frequently in order to make sure you and your baby are doing alright. 

★ WHAT FOODS TO AVOID IF YOU HAVE PREECLAMPSIA?

It’s hard to resist certain foods while pregnant. Cravings and morning sickness really take a toll on your diet! Following a healthy diet with plenty of nutrient rich foods is like fruits, vegetables and whole grains are a must. Avoiding excess salt and sugar is always a good idea, but consult your obstetrician and/or dietitian before cutting out or adding certain foods while pregnant. 

Since preeclampsia may prevent a baby from not receiving as much nourishment as it needs, ensuring that nutrients are included in the diet is crucial! 

★ HOW DOES PREECLAMPSIA AFFECT THE BABY?

We want our babies to be born at optimal health and weight, so we hope our babies develop in the belly for the optimal amount of time; which is around 40 weeks. Because preeclampsia can cause early delivery, anything less than this produces risk factors

Since preeclampsia doesn’t allow the placenta to receive adequate blood supply and nutrients through blood vessels, your baby may be born small. This is called fetal growth restriction. Preeclampsia may also cause a complication known as placental abruption. The placenta separates from the inner lining of a mother’s uterus, and causes bleeding that tends to be heavy- life threatening and unfortunately sometimes leading to stillbirth. 

Preeclampsia may sometimes even lead to damage of other organs, and mom could develop diseases that affect the blood vessels. Another complication that may take place due to preeclampsia is something called HELLP syndrome. No, it's not a cry for “help!”, its an acronym, and it stands for: 

Hemolysis → when red blood cells (important for carrying oxygen to mom and baby), begin to break down

Elevated Liver enzymes → this is an indication that your liver may not be functioning properly Low Platelet counts → the platelets’ job is to clot blood- when there are not enough platelets, your blood won't clot the way it's supposed to. 

The symptoms of HELLP syndrome are common to preeclampsia symptoms, but also include bleeding from the nose or gums, having an upset stomach, and chest pain. 

★ CAN YOU HAVE A HEALTHY BABY WITH PREECLAMPSIA?

Yes! Most women who experience preeclampsia during pregnancy deliver perfect, healthy babies without complications, and fully recover after birth. There are, of course, some instances where complications do unfortunately occur. Depending on how severe mom’s preeclampsia is, and how early it develops, the greater the risk for certain complications and issues with birth.