Preeclampsia: Can I Lower My Risk?

Your doctor may have told you 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?

Also known as toxemia, preeclampsia occurs if your blood pressure rises higher than 130/80 after week 20 of your pregnancy and you also have protein in your urine because of stress on your kidneys.

This condition could seriously hurt you and your babies. If you don't receive treatment, it can harm your brain, heart, kidneys, and liver. You can also develop eclampsia, which can put 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?

According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 10% of pregnancies globally are affected by preeclampsia.

Your risk for developing preeclampsia is greater if you have a history of:

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
  • Have had preeclampsia with a prior pregnancy

 

Can I Prevent Preeclampsia?

You can't prevent preeclampsia, but doctors are researching ways to avert it. 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. Multiple studies have advised the use of a baby aspirin after 12 weeks of pregnancy in women who have had prior pregnancies affected by preeclampsia.  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.

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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.

Go to prenatal visits. The best way to keep you and your babies 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 babies are growing

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.

Is There Treatment for Preeclampsia?

If you develop mild preeclampsia, your doctor may want you to be less active. In certain cases you may need medication, bed rest, or hospitalization, especially if you have severe preeclampsia.

Delivery. The only way to stop preeclampsia entirely, though, is to have your babies. To keep the three of you healthy, your doctor may want to induce labor so you have your babies earlier than your due date. You may need medication to lower your blood pressure when you deliver.

Depending upon how healthy you and your babies 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. And preeclampsia usually doesn't increase your risk for high blood pressure in the future.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on February 17, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Pregnancy-induced Hypertension."

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy."

Kiel, D. Obstetrics and Gynecology, October 2007.

March of Dimes: "Preeclampsia" and "High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy."

Nemours Foundation: "Surviving Bed Rest."

Vadillo-Ortega, F.  BMJ, May 2011.

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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