Learn about preeclampsia, a relatively rare but serious pregnancy complication.

Preeclampsia, or high blood pressure during pregnancy, is a condition that occurs during pregnancy and affects many organs in the body. It can threaten the lives of you and your baby. While most expectant women need not worry, preeclampsia does affect 3 to 7 percent of all pregnancies and can occur after delivery, a condition called postpartum preeclampsia.

Signs of preeclampsia

The most common features of preeclampsia are high blood pressure (often higher than 140/90 mm Hg) and increased protein in the urine. These symptoms appear at 20 weeks or later in your pregnancy. Other symptoms may include:

  • Swelling in the hands and face
  • Sudden weight gain over 1-2 days, or more than 2 pounds in a week
  • Severe headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Upper belly pain
  • Feeling faint
  • Not urinating often

Risk factors for preeclampsia

The exact cause of preeclampsia isn’t known, but you are at higher risk if you have a family or personal history of preeclampsia.Other risk factors:

Diagnosis and next steps

Preeclampsia is a condition that often worsens during pregnancy. If you develop preeclampsia, you will require frequent blood pressure and urine monitoring. If you are near your due date, delivery may be recommended. Complete bed rest is no longer recommended for most women with preeclampsia as it predisposes you to the development of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots.

Untreated, preeclampsia can lead to having dangerously high blood pressure. That can lead to the baby being born prematurely or very small, as well as cause seizures in the mother. The ultimate cure is delivery of the baby.

Routine prenatal visits typically include blood pressure and urine checks, so preeclampsia can be spotted as early as possible. If you’re concerned about symptoms or risk factors, talk to your LVHN health care provider.

Be aware that postpartum preeclampsia can occur up to six weeks after delivery. If you have any signs of preeclampsia, during pregnancy or after delivery, contact your LVHN health care provider immediately.