What Is Preeclampsia?

Prenatal care is important for a healthy pregnancy.

Prenatal care is important for a healthy pregnancy.

May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month, and to be fully honest I didn’t know a thing about what preeclampsia was until I sat down to write this blog post. What I found out is alarming.

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure disorder and it affects 2 to 8 percent of pregnant women. It belongs to a group known as hypertensive disorders, which is the leading cause of maternal deaths. As a group, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, which includes preeclampsia as well as other disorders, account for 11.1 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in this country.

Prenatal care from a trusted ob/gyn is crucial!

Symptoms of preeclampsia can include a constant headache, belly pain under the ribs on the right side, swelling (legs, hands, and feet), decreased urination, protein in your urine, nausea with vomiting, and vision changes such as temporary blindness. In extreme cases, when preeclampsia develops into eclampsia, it is characterized by high blood pressure and seizures.

Usually, this disease starts after the 20th week of pregnancy, but the earlier it starts the higher the chance for a poor outcome. Preeclampsia is serious because the only cure for it is delivering the baby. It also increases risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and preeclampsia in subsequent pregnancies.

Women are at a higher risk if they have mothers or sisters who have had preeclampsia, or a history of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. It can also be more common in first-time pregnancies, in pregnant people 40 years of age or older, or when the mother is pregnant with more than one baby. If you have any of the risk factors for preeclampsia, you can plan for a healthy pregnancy with a prenatal health care provider.

The good news is the majority of preeclampsia cases are very mild and can be monitored from home. Since preeclampsia is characterized by seizures and high blood pressure, medications for those ailments can help manage it. It’s also important to be monitored by a health care provider during your regular prenatal care. Preeclampsia can be asymptomatic, so your doctor will watch your blood pressure and have you regularly take urine tests throughout your prenatal care, even if you feel fine — just to make sure that there are no underlying health concerns.

Preeclampsia is just one of the many reasons that getting prenatal care once it is determined you are pregnant is so important. Having an ob/gyn you can trust is crucial, and Planned Parenthood Arizona helps its patients have healthy pregnancies by providing them with referrals for prenatal care in their community.

More information about preeclampsia can be found at the website of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.