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Sharp Health News

What pregnant women need to know about preeclampsia

May 29, 2019

What pregnant women need to know about preeclampsia

Up to 7% of pregnant women will experience preeclampsia, a serious condition that can develop in later pregnancy, usually after 20 weeks.

The dangers of preeclampsia are significant to both mother and baby. Pregnant women who have severe preeclampsia can develop life-threatening complications including stroke, internal bleeding and seizures.

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
  • Severe 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. David Dowling, a high-risk pregnancy specialist affiliated with 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 severe preeclampsia face some of the greatest challenges,” says Dr. Dowling. “It takes a team of specialized nurses and doctors to safely prolong the pregnancy and deliver before complications arise.”

Though data is varied, the chances of a woman developing preeclampsia again in future pregnancies — as well as other health problems such as chronic hypertension and heart disease — is up to 50%. However, past personal and family medical history can increase those chances.

Dr. Dowling states, “While the current pregnancy is the focus, it is important for patients to understand what preeclampsia means for their future health and pregnancies.”

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

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