Your doctor may have told you that you're at higher risk for preeclampsia. Just the sound of this word may be intimidating. But with your doctor's help, dealing with this risk should be much less scary.
What Is Preeclampsia?
If you have never had high blood pressure before but your blood pressure rises higher than 140/90 mm Hg after week 20 of your pregnancy, you may have preeclampsia (also called Toxemia). You also may be tested for protein in your urine because of stress on your kidneys.
This condition could seriously hurt you and your baby. If you don't receive treatment, it can harm your brain, kidneys, and liver. You can also develop eclampsia, which can put both your lives at risk.
It may ease your mind to know you can greatly reduce the risk of preeclampsia by going to all your prenatal appointments. In fact, most pregnant women who have preeclampsia have healthy babies.
Learn why you are at risk and what you can do to have the safest pregnancy possible.
Why Am I at Increased Risk?
Up to 8% of pregnancies are affected by preeclampsia.
Your risk for developing preeclampsia is greater if you have a history of:
- High blood pressure before pregnancy
- Preeclampsia or high blood pressure during a past pregnancy
- Diabetes or kidney disease
- An autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or lupus
You are also at increased risk if you:
- Are a teen or older than age 40
- Were obese before you got pregnant
- Are African-American
- Are having your first baby
- Are carrying more than one baby
Can I Prevent Preeclampsia?
You can't currently prevent preeclampsia, but researchers are trying to determine if it's possible to do so. One study shows that eating food bars containing the amino acid L-arginine and antioxidant vitamins lowered the risk of preeclampsia in high-risk women. Another study shows that overweight or obese women who gained fewer than 15 pounds during pregnancy had a lower risk for preeclampsia. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor before making any changes.
What Else Can I Do?
Taking the following steps may help reduce the risks of serious problems related to preeclampsia. Staying on top of your symptoms can also alert your doctor to any need for an early delivery. If you are at very high risk for preeclampsia, your doctor may put you on a daily low dose of aspirin. Also:
Go to prenatal visits. The best way to keep you and your baby healthy throughout your pregnancy is to go to all your scheduled prenatal visits so your doctor can check your blood pressure and any other signs and symptoms of preeclampsia.
Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor will check:
- Your blood pressure
- Your blood
- Levels of protein in your urine
- How your baby is growing and gaining weight
Track your weight and blood pressure. If you had high blood pressure before you were pregnant, be sure to tell your doctor at your first appointment. Your doctor may want you to track your weight and blood pressure in between visits.
Ease blood pressure. To help ease your blood pressure, you doctor may recommend taking extra calcium or aspirin, or lying on your left side when you rest. They may also recommend that you check your diet to be sure you're getting plenty of fruits and veggies and that your diet is low in salt.
Is There Treatment for Preeclampsia?
Delivery. The only way to stop preeclampsia entirely, though, is to have your baby. Even then, the condition may develop shortly after delivery and/or persist for up to six weeks. To keep you both healthy, your doctor may want to induce labor so you have your baby earlier than your due date. You may need medication to lower your blood pressure when you deliver.
Depending upon how healthy you and your baby are, your doctor may want you to have a cesarean instead of vaginal delivery.
After delivery. Preeclampsia may require that you to stay in the hospital longer after you give birth. Your blood pressure should return to a normal level a few weeks after you deliver. Preeclampsia could put you at risk for high blood pressure or the development of cardiovascular disease in the future.