Preeclampsia is a condition in which a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure as well as protein in urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It is also known as toxemia and affect about 2-6% of healthy , first time mothers.


What causes preeclampsia ?

The exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, however experts believe it begins in the placenta. Blood vessels develop during early pregnancy. These blood vessels send blood to the placenta. In people with preeclampsia, the blood vessels do not develop properly and therefore limit the amount of blood flow through them. Some of the other possible causes includes

  • auto immune disease
  • certain genes
  • insufficient blood flow to the uterus
  • your diet


Am I at risk ?

These group of women are at high risk of preeclampsia

  • first time mothers
  • carrying multiples
  • women younger than 20 years of age and older than 40 years
  • women with pre existing high blood pressure and kidney disease
  • obese women
  • women whose mother or sister had preeclampsia

What are the symptoms of preeclampsia ?


Symptoms of mild preecampsia include :

  • elevated blood pressure
  • edema
  • protein in urine

Symptoms of severe preeclampsia include :

  • blurred vision
  • headaches
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and vomiting
  • intolerance to bright light
  • upper right abdominal pain
  • decreased urine output

Contact your doctor immediately if you are experiencing these symptoms.


How is preeclampsia diagnosed ?

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam which may reveal the following

  • swelling in the hands and feet
  • elevated high blood pressure usually  higher than 140/90 mm/Hg
  • weight gain

Blood tests may reveal

  • protein in urine
  • platelet count of less than 100,000
  • higher than normal liver enzymes

Blood clotting functions may also be checked as well as an ultrasound to check your baby’s growth.


How is preeclampsia treated ?

The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby. Treatment however depends on how close you are to your due date. If you are almost due for delivery and your baby is fully developed, your doctor will probably deliver you.


If you have mild preeclampsia and you are far from your due date, your doctor will recommend the following to help the baby stay in utero as long as  possible

  • drink at least 8 glasses of water to stay well hydrated
  • bed rest ; lie on your left side to take the weight of your baby  off your major blood vessel
  • reduce your salt intake
  • increase prenatal visits
  • add more protein to your diet

If your case is severe and your baby is not fully developed, your doctor may try blood pressure medications until you are far along enough to deliver your baby safely. He may also include dietary changes, bed rest and supplements.


In some cases , pregnant women may be admitted at the hospital for close monitoring. They may be given medication to control blood pressure, prevent seizures and other complications. They may also be given steroid injections if they are after 24 weeks  to help speed the development of the baby’s lungs.


Your baby will be delivered immediately if you start experiencing signs of severe preeclampsia.


What is the effect of preeclampsia on the mother ?


Untreated preeclampsia can lead to life threatening conditions such as

  • liver or kidney failure
  • future cardiovascular issues
  • eclampsia which is a severe form preeclampsia and can lead to seizures in the mother
  • HELLP syndrome ( hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count) which is usually occur in late pregnancy. It affects the breakdown of red blood cells, how blood clots and liver function of pregnant women


What is the effect of preeclampsia on my baby ?


It can result in babies with low birth weight. This is because it affects the amount of blood going to the placenta. If blood flow to the placenta is reduced,  your baby gets less food and oxygen and therefore his growth is affected. When preeclampsia is however discovered and treated early, most mothers can go on to have healthy babies.


How can I prevent preeclampsia ?

There is no sure way to prevent preeclampsia , however you can take these steps to reduce your risk.

  • drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day
  • get enough rest
  • add little or no salt to your diet
  • avoid junk and fried foods
  • elevate your legs several times a day
  • avoid beverages containing caffeine
  • stay active
  • avoid alcoholic beverages
  • you may be asked by your doctor to take additional supplements or prescribed medications

Content Sources

Preeclampsia : Toxemia. American Pregnancy Association. Accessed September 5, 2014

Preeclampsia. National Library of Medicine. medlinePlus. September 5, 2014
Preeclampsia. Mayo Foundation. Accessed September 5, 2014


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