Dr. Ozhan Turan speaks with a patient

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. It always occurs after 20 weeks.

It happens when the placenta isn’t functioning properly and can only occur during pregnancy.

Preeclampsia is more frequent in women who are:

  • African-American
  • Diabetic, or have kidney disease, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Carrying more than one baby
  • Living with high blood pressure
  • Obese
  • Pregnant for the first time
  • Under age 18 and over age 40

Women with a history of preeclampsia are also more likely to have it again; there is a 20% risk of getting it in subsequent pregnancies.

Preeclampsia Symptoms

Symptoms for preeclampsia vary. One sign is if a pregnant woman is generally healthy but starts gaining weight too quickly at two to three pounds a day. Her partner or family member may comment that she looks “puffy” particularly in the face.

A woman may not “feel right,” like something is wrong, and may experience severe headaches that don’t go away with Tylenol. 

If a woman thinks she may have preeclampsia, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible.

The doctor will measure her blood pressure to see if it is high. The doctor will also test the urine to look for high protein. During the first-trimester screening, the maternal fetal medicine specialist can determine whether the patient is at risk for preeclampsia. 

High Blood Pressure and Preeclampsia

If a woman already has high blood pressure, she won't necessarily get preeclampsia during pregnancy. But if a woman has chronic high blood pressure, she is at a higher risk for developing preeclampsia and should see a maternal fetal medicine specialist.  

Treating Preeclampsia

The only treatment for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby. The doctor will monitor preeclampsia throughout the rest of the pregnancy and use a set of criteria to determine the most optimal time to deliver the baby. We have to balance our decision based on maternal health status and fetal health status.

For example, if preeclampsia is not severe, we try to wait and get to 37 weeks to give the fetus more time and to see if the preeclampsia resolves itself, which can happen. But if it is severe, then delivery may be the best option so that we don’t prolong complications.

Prevention

For women who are at high risk for developing preeclampsia, the doctor will likely recommend baby aspirin. No other medications are recommended, such as fish oil. Other things that can help include maintaining a healthy diet and weight, and keeping blood pressure under control.