For the media

What pregnant women need to know about preeclampsia

By The Health News Team | June 16, 2023
Floral illustration of pregnant woman

One of the most common pregnancy complications is preeclampsia, a condition in which the sudden development of high blood pressure results in issues such as protein in the urine, indicating kidney damage, and signs of damage to other organs. Approximately 1 in 25 women will experience preeclampsia, which occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The dangers of preeclampsia are significant to both mother and baby. Pregnant women who have severe symptoms, such as stroke, internal bleeding and seizures, can develop eclampsia, a life-threatening medical emergency. The effects of preeclampsia on an infant can include poor growth, poor oxygenation and preterm delivery.

It is important for pregnant people to watch for signs of preeclampsia, which can include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Protein in the urine

  • Headaches

  • Symptoms of indigestion or upper abdominal pain

  • Visual disturbances

  • Swelling in the feet, hands and face

  • Excessive weight gain in a short period of time (less than one week)

If symptoms are present, careful monitoring of blood pressure and lab tests can help determine if preeclampsia is the cause. Once the diagnosis is made, the critical decision is when it is best to deliver the baby.

The 'cure' for preeclampsia

According to Dr. Joanna Adamczak, chief medical officer of Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, the "cure" for preeclampsia is delivery.

"The challenge is deciding the best time to deliver for both mother and baby," Dr. Adamczak says. "Continuation of the pregnancy presents risks that must be weighed against the risk of premature delivery.”

People with mild preeclampsia can continue pregnancy with close follow up until they reach their full term. However, if they develop severe symptoms, delivery is usually necessary for the benefit of both mother and baby. Some people develop preeclampsia at very early gestational ages (less than 34 weeks). These patients are routinely hospitalized in a high-risk pregnancy unit with intensive monitoring.

“Patients with early onset of severe preeclampsia face some of the greatest challenges,” says Dr. Adamczak. “It takes a team of specialized nurses and doctors to safely prolong the pregnancy and deliver before complications arise.”

How preeclampsia affects future health

The chances of a woman developing preeclampsia again in future pregnancies is up to 20%. However, past personal and family medical history can increase those chances up to 80%. Other factors that can increase the risk of pregnant women developing preeclampsia include having chronic high blood pressure, Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, obesity or a family history of preeclampsia.

Additionally, women who have had preeclampsia are twice at risk of developing stroke or heart disease, the latter being a leading cause of death for women. “While the current pregnancy is the focus, it is important for patients to understand what preeclampsia means for their future health and pregnancies,” says Dr. Adamczak.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Adamczak about preeclampsia and other pregnancy-related topics, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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