What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia, also known as toxemia involves a sudden increase in blood pressure during pregnancy. It can cause a high level of protein in your urine and swelling in your hands, legs and feet. When left undiagnosed, preeclampsia can turn into the more serious eclampsia. Eclampsia can put you and your baby's life at risk.

Causes of preeclampsia

Doctors and researchers don't yet know the exact causes of this condition; however, they think certain factors can contribute to whether you might get preeclampsia. These include:

  • A placenta that isn't working properly
  • Poor nutrition or lack of prenatal care
  • Low blood flow to the uterus
  • High levels of body fat
  • Genetics

Risk factors for preeclampsia

Risk factors for preeclampsia include:

  • First time mothers
  • Pregnant teenagers
  • Pregnant women who are over 40
  • History of high blood pressure
  • History of diabetes, kidney disease, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Previous preeclampsia diagnosis
  • Family history of preeclampsia
  • Mothers who are carrying more than one baby

Symptoms of preeclampsia

Sometimes, preeclampsia shows no symptoms at all. High blood pressure may take a while to rise or happen suddenly. This is why it's so important for a doctor to keep checking your blood pressure during appointments. If your blood pressure is over 140/90 twice, at least four hours apart, you may show signs of preeclampsia. Swelling and weight gain are associated with preeclampsia. They're also normal symptoms of a healthy pregnancy.

Other symptoms include:

  • Excess protein in your urine or a decrease in going to the bathroom
  • Pain in your stomach, usually under ribs on your right side
  • Changes in vision or sensitivity to light
  • Shortness of breath
  • Very bad headache
  • Nausea

Diagnosis of preeclampsia

It's important to have regular prenatal care visits. Your doctor can monitor your health and diagnose preeclampsia as early as possible. High blood pressure is the easiest way for a doctor to see a problem. Your doctor can also check for high levels of protein in your urine through another routine test.

Treatments for preeclampsia

There's no treatment for preeclampsia; however, you can still work to reduce your symptoms.

  • Put your legs up to reduce swelling
  • Rest
  • Healthy diet
  • Bed rest and lying on your left side

Your doctor may recommend a low-dose aspirin and calcium supplement. This can help prevent preeclampsia and worsening conditions. Try not to eat extra protein or skip breakfast to hide weight gain before doctor's appointments. Preeclampsia is a complicated condition. It can result from many different causes. It can be a scary time to deliver your baby once you're diagnosed with preeclampsia. Seeing your doctor regularly and reducing your stress levels can help you deliver your baby safely.

Recovery from preeclampsia

Most women with preeclampsia deliver their babies and make full recoveries. After delivery, some mothers experience the following:

  • stomach pain
  • upset stomach
  • swelling, headaches
  • vision changes
  • shortness of breath

Even if you did not experience preeclampsia during your pregnancy, you are at risk for developing it after you have given birth. If you experience any of these symptoms after you have given birth, it is important that you contact 911 and call your doctor right away. It might be life-threatening if not treated right away.

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