Preeclampsia – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment


What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia refers to a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. This complication occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy. It occurs in about 3% to 7% of all pregnant women. It can lead to serious complications for both mother and baby.

What causes preeclampsia?
The exact cause of preeclampsia is not known to doctors and other experts. Doctors could not identify one single cause so far, but they are exploring some potential causes.

The following may be the potential causes:

  • Diet
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Genetic causes
  • Blood vessel problems

The following risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing preeclampsia:

  • First pregnancy
  • Personal history of preeclampsia
  • Multiple pregnancies (two or more fetuses)
  • The family history of preeclampsia
  • Obesity
  • Over 35 years of age
  • History of diabetes
  • History of high blood pressure
  • History of disease

What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?
Often, women with preeclampsia do not feel sick and might not notice any symptoms. If and when symptoms develop, they can include:

  • Swelling of the hands and face
  • Swelling of eyes
  • Sudden weight gain

The following are the symptoms of severe preeclampsia:

  • A persistent headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Right-sided abdominal pain below the ribs.
  • Decreased urine output
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision changes

How is preeclampsia diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a physical exam and review the symptoms. During the exam, the doctor may find blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm/Hg, swelling in the hands and face, and weight gain

The doctor will also do blood and urine tests, which may show:

  • Proteinuria (protein in the urine)
  • High liver enzymes
  • Low platelet count

The doctor may do pregnancy ultrasound, non-stress test, and some other tests to check for any problems in the mother and health of the baby. These tests will help the doctor decide whether to deliver the bay right away or not.

How is preeclampsia treated?
The only treatment to cure preeclampsia is to deliver the baby.

Usually, the baby is developed enough at 37 weeks and can be healthy if delivered. In that case, the doctor may recommend delivering the baby before the preeclampsia does not get worse. The doctor may give medicines to help trigger labor or may recommend a C-section if it is needed.

If the baby is not fully developed and the preeclampsia is mild, the doctor may recommend home-management measures until the baby is developed enough to be delivered.

The doctor may recommend:

  • Bed rest
  • Lying on your left side most or all of the time
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Reducing salt intake
  • Frequent doctor visits
  • Medicines to lower your blood pressure

The doctor, sometimes, may recommend hospitalization to closely watch the baby and mother.The doctor may give the following treatment in the hospital:

  • Medicines to control blood pressure
  • Medicines to prevent seizures and other complications
  • Steroid injections for pregnancies under 34 weeks gestation to help speed up the development of the baby’s lungs

This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.

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