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Preeclampsia


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Preeclampsia is high blood pressure (hypertension) during pregnancy that is accompanied by swelling and protein in the urine. This high-risk pregnancy complication occurs in about five percent of U.S. pregnancies. Preeclampsia usually begins after the 20th week of pregnancy and can be fatal without treatment.

To mitigate that risk, our doctors routinely screen for a variety of maternal conditions, including preeclampsia.

What Causes Preeclampsia?

The exact causes of preeclampsia are unknown, but doctors have identified many risk factors, including:

  • first-time pregnancy
  • history of blood clotting disorders, diabetes, or lupus
  • history of kidney disease or high blood pressure
  • multiple gestation
  • obesity
  • pregnancy over the age of 40
  • previous history of preeclampsia

Preeclampsia Symptoms to Watch

The main sign of preeclampsia is high blood pressure, or blood pressure greater than 140/90. 

Other signs of preeclampsia include: 

  • headache
  • swelling in the face and hands
  • temporary loss of vision, blurred vision, or light sensitivity
  • too much protein in the urine
  • upper abdominal pain

Diagnosis & Treatment for Preeclampsia

It is not always possible to prevent preeclampsia, so you have to control risk factors as much as possible. If you have conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes before you become pregnant, this may mean taking medications or making lifestyle changes.

Because you can develop preeclampsia even if you don’t have any risk factors, our doctors carefully monitor your blood pressure and urine during pregnancy. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery. If symptoms of preeclampsia start at or after 37 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor may recommend inducing labor. The symptoms of preeclampsia go away within six weeks of giving birth.

If you haven't reached 37 weeks of pregnancy, doctors will try to give your baby extra time to develop. If your health is at risk, the doctor will recommend immediate delivery, even if the baby is premature.

Women with moderate-to-severe preeclampsia should be admitted to a Dignity Health hospital for around-the-clock monitoring. Treatment may include: 

  • intravenous (IV) fluids
  • medication to control blood pressure and prevent seizures
  • steroid injections to speed up the baby’s lung development

You can trust our care team at Dignity Health to support your health at every stage of your pregnancy. 

Learn More

For more information, please view our High-Risk Pregnancy page, or call us to Find a Doctor.