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Sharp Health News

What pregnant women need to know about preeclampsia

July 11, 2022

What pregnant women need to know about preeclampsia

One of the most common pregnancy complications is preeclampsia, a condition in which a sudden development of high blood pressure results in issues including protein in the urine. Approximately 1 in 25 women will experience preeclampsia, which occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The dangers of preeclampsia are significant to both the mother and the baby. Pregnant women who have severe symptoms including stroke, internal bleeding and seizures, develop eclampsia, a life-threatening medical emergency.

Effects on the baby include poor growth, poor oxygenation and preterm delivery.

Symptoms of preeclampsia
Symptoms of the condition 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 best to deliver the baby.

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. Continuation of the pregnancy presents risks that must be weighed against the risk of premature delivery.”

Patients with mild preeclampsia can continue pregnancy with close follow-up until full term. However, if a patient develops severe symptoms, delivery is usually necessary for the benefit of both mother and baby. Some patients 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.”

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.

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 erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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