Preeclampsia: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Preeclampsia: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

No one likes to think about the things that can go wrong during pregnancy. All we want to do is imagine a smooth pregnancy and an easy delivery so we can meet the new baby. But that fact is, there are things that can go badly during pregnancy and the best thing you can do for you and your baby is to be prepared. 

Preeclampsia is a common complication with the pregnancy. Again, it is not something people want to think about, but learning to recognize preeclampsia is the best way to take steps to deal with it. Most women will get through their pregnancy and delivery without anything out of the ordinary. But it is simply best to be informed about issues such as preeclampsia. 

Preeclampsia is a frightening topic for many women. The risks inherent with preeclampsia are serious. But is of utmost importance that you understand complications that come with pregnancy including things like preeclampsia. 

What is preeclampsia? What causes preeclampsia? And what are the risk factors for preeclampsia? The more you know the better prepared you will be if you happen to experience preeclampsia. Getting the information on preeclampsia is the best way to prepare yourself. 

What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition in which you have high blood pressure during your pregnancy. Preeclampsia can occur after delivery and it can also cause protein to appear in your urine. Low blood clotting factors are another result of preeclampsia. Protein in urine and low blood-clotting factors (platelets) are symptoms of kidney and liver problems that come with preeclampsia. 

Preeclampsia generally happens around the second trimester of pregnancy. However, it can set in earlier, during the third trimester of pregnancy or occur after labor.

Another condition called eclampsia is a severe form and progression of preeclampsia. With eclampsia, there is a real danger of seizures as a result of the severely high blood pressure that comes with eclampsia. 

In the past, preeclampsia was not diagnosed unless blood pressure became elevated and there were signs of protein in the urine. Doctors now know that preeclampsia can occur without these symptoms. Approximately 5 percent of pregnant women experience preeclampsia. 

Preeclampsia symptoms

Preeclampsia symptoms

Before listing the most common symptoms of preeclampsia, we should note that some people notice no symptoms at all of preeclampsia. It is important to keep seeing your healthcare provider throughout your pregnancy to monitor things like blood pressure. 

Should you develop symptoms, the most important things to watch out for include: 

  • persistent headache
  • abnormal swelling in your hands and face
  • sudden weight gain
  • changes in your vision
  • pain in the right upper abdomen

During a routine physical exam, your doctor may find your blood pressure at 140/90 or higher. At which point your doctor may order urine and blood tests to determine protein in your urine, abnormal liver enzymes, and low platelets. 

If these indicators lead to a diagnosis of preeclampsia, your doctor may do a nonstress test on your baby. A nonstress test involves measuring fetal heart rate and changes in the movement of the baby. An ultrasound may reveal more information about fluid levels and the health of your baby. 

Preeclampsia causes

There is no single known cause of preeclampsia. Some of the causes under consideration by researchers include:

  • Genetics
  • Blood vessel problems
  • Autoimmune disorders.
  • There are some risk factors that can make someone disposed to develop preeclampsia. Thee include: 
  • Pregnancy with multiple fetuses
  • Being over the age of 35
  • Being in your early teens
  • First pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • A history of high blood pressure
  • A history of diabetes
  • A history of kidney disorders

There is no certain way to prevent the development of preeclampsia. Some doctors recommend women take baby aspirin after the first trimester to help prevent preeclampsia. 

Most physicians say that early and consistent prenatal care is the best way to prevent preeclampsia and to deal with it effectively if it does occur. Having preeclampsia properly diagnosed as early as possible is the best way for your doctor to monitor the health of you and your baby. 

Types of Preeclampsia

Types of Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia can be broken into varying degrees of severity. Since preeclampsia is marked by hypertension or high blood pressure, it is usually diagnosed as the following. 

Gestational hypertension

Women with gestational hypertension have high blood pressure but no excess protein in their urine or other signs of organ damage. Some women with gestational hypertension eventually develop preeclampsia.

Chronic hypertension

Chronic hypertension is high blood pressure that was present before pregnancy or that occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy. But because high blood pressure usually doesn't have symptoms, it may be hard to determine when it began.

Chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia

This condition occurs in women who have been diagnosed with chronic high blood pressure before pregnancy, but then develop worsening high blood pressure and protein in the urine or other health complications during pregnancy.

There is also severe eclampsia. This is severe preeclampsia. It is rare but quite serious. With eclampsia, blood pressure becomes so high that there is a danger of seizures. Eclampsia affects 1 in 200 women. 

Preeclampsia risks

Preeclampsia risks

Preeclampsia develops only as a complication of pregnancy. Risk factors include:

History of preeclampsia

A personal or family history of preeclampsia significantly raises your risk of preeclampsia.

Chronic hypertension

If you already have chronic hypertension, you have a higher risk of developing preeclampsia.

First pregnancy

The risk of developing preeclampsia is highest during your first pregnancy.

New paternity

Each pregnancy with a new partner increases the risk of preeclampsia more than does a second or third pregnancy with the same partner.


The risk of preeclampsia is higher for very young pregnant women as well as pregnant women older than 35.


Black women have a higher risk of developing preeclampsia than women of other races.


The risk of preeclampsia is higher if you're obese.

Multiple pregnancies

Preeclampsia is more common in women who are carrying twins, triplets, or other multiples.

The interval between pregnancies

Having babies less than two years or more than 10 years apart leads to a higher risk of preeclampsia.

History of certain conditions

Having certain conditions before you become pregnant, such as chronic high blood pressure, migraines, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, a tendency to develop blood clots, or lupus increases your risk of preeclampsia.

In vitro fertilization

Your risk of preeclampsia is increased if your baby was conceived with in vitro fertilizationThere are several complications that can arise as a result of preeclampsia. These complications include:

Fetal growth restriction

Since preeclampsia affects the arteries that carry blood to the placenta, the blood supply to the fetus can be restricted. This means the baby will not get enough blood for adequate oxygen and nutrients. This can result in low fetal birth weight and preterm birth.

Preterm birth

Preeclampsia, particularly when it is severe, can endanger the life of the baby. This means the baby may need to be delivered early. Premature birth can lead to breathing problems and other issues. 

Placental abruption

Preeclampsia increases the risk of placental abruption. This is a condition in which the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery. Severe abruption can lead to heavy bleeding and may endanger your life and the life of your baby.

HELLP syndrome

HELLP is an acronym for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count. Hemolysis is the destruction of red blood cells. HELLP occurs mainly in cases of severe eclampsia. It can become life-threatening to you and your baby. Symptoms of HELLP include nausea, vomiting, headache, and upper right abdominal pain. HELLP is especially dangerous since it can lead to damage to organ systems. 

Preeclampsia treatment

The best treatment for preeclampsia is delivery. While you are carrying the baby, you remain at high risk for seizures, placental abruption, stroke, and severe bleeding. If you are not far enough along in your term to safely deliver the baby, you will need other strategies. 

If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia you will need to see your doctor more frequently to monitor your blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe blood and urine tests to monitor the severity of preeclampsia. You may also need ultrasounds and nonstress tests to check on the health and safety of your baby. 


There are some medications that can help with preeclampsia. These include:

Blood pressure medications:These are called antihypertensives. These kinds of medications may be prescribed if your blood pressure is above 140/90. There are many kinds of hypertensive medications. Some of them are safe to take during pregnancy. 

Corticosteroids: In the case of severe preeclampsia or HELLP syndrome, you may need to take corticosteroids. These will help temporarily improve your liver function and platelet count during the length of your pregnancy. Corticosteroids can also help speed the maturity of your baby’s lungs. Corticosteroids can bring a baby’s lungs to maturity in as little as 48 hours. This will be essential if you need to deliver prematurely. 

Anticonvulsant medications: If preeclampsia is severe, your doctor may prescribe an anticonvulsant medication like magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. 

Bed rest

Another common and less intrusive treatment for preeclampsia is bed rest. This is not often recommended anymore because it is not known to be all that effective and bed rest can increase your chance of developing blood clots. It is also known that bed rest is not good for the mental well-being of expectant mothers. 


If a case of preeclampsia becomes severe enough, you may be hospitalized. This will allow doctors to do around-the-clock monitoring of blood pressure. They will also be able to continuously monitor the health and well-being of your baby. 


If you are already toward the end of your pregnancy, your doctor may simply decide to end your pregnancy and induce labor. This will in part be determined by the readiness of your cervix for birth. 

If birth is not possible due to the readiness of the cervix or because of the baby’s stage of fetal development, the doctor may schedule a cesarean section. You may be given anticonvulsant medications during these processes. 

After the birth of your baby, you will need to continue to take precautions with blood pressure until it returns to normal. Preeclampsia and the symptoms generally resolved themselves in the months following delivery. Most women return to normal blood pressure within 48 hours of delivery. 

Normal kidney and liver functions will ordinarily return to healthy levels within a few months. 

In some cases, blood pressure can become elevated again after delivery. It is important to continue seeing your doctor after delivery to monitor your blood pressure after you have experienced preeclampsia. 

In rare cases, preeclampsia can occur following the birth of a baby. It is possible to have a pregnancy with no complications and still develop preeclampsia. Pay attention to any symptoms that may develop after your baby is born. It is always important to continue proper postpartum care. 


Preeclampsia is an unfortunate complication that can occur during pregnancy. While most women will carry their baby to term without a hitch, there are some who will run into problems along the way. The best way to get through these difficulties is to be informed. 

Since much is known about preeclampsia, doctors are able to treat it and deal with the complications that come with it effectively. From spikes in blood pressure to preterm birth methods, medical science is able to deal with the problems associated with preeclampsia quite well. 

If you experience any of the symptoms described in this guide, or if you are in any of the risk categories in this guide, make sure you talk to your doctor about these things. Being prepared for the risk of preeclampsia is one way to head off problems before they arise. 

Again, prevention is the best way to deal with any complications during your pregnancy. Taking precautions and keeping your doctor informed will help minimize the possibility of developing severe problems from preeclampsia.