Must Know: Signs of Preeclampsia

  • 2-8%

    of people are affected by preeclampsia in pregnancy or postpartum

  • Hard to detect

    symptoms can often resemble common pregnancy and postpartum ailments

  • Be your own healthcare advocate

    • Learn to take your blood pressure
    • Attend regular prenatal appointments
    • If you are pregnant and moderate to high risk for preeclampsia discuss low dose (81mg) aspirin with your healthcare provider
  • Concerned about preeclampsia?

    Preeclampsia Foundation

What is it?

Preeclampsia is serious condition marked by persistently high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy or the postpartum period. Since people generally don't notice the feeling of high blood pressure, it can be difficult to detect by yourself unless you know the other signs to look out for, or have a blood pressure cuff at home. Preeclampsia can occur before, during, or after delivery and can progress rapidly. It is not fully understood what causes preeclampsia, but it is thought to be due to problems with the placenta. If untreated, it can lead to eclampsia, which is a life-threatening condition and one of the leading causes of preventable maternal deaths in the United States.

Signs of preeclampsia

  • Swelling in your hands and face
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dull or severe, throbbing headaches, often described as migraine-like that just won't go away
  • Blurred vision, seeing spots, or flashing lights
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Blood pressure at or over 140/90

Eclampsia is characterized by the onset of seizures, stroke, or a coma and can lead to death if not treated. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, contact your healthcare provider immediately and go to the nearest Emergency Room.

How common is it?

Preeclampsia is a serious condition that impacts 2-8% of people during pregnancy or postpartum. Of all maternal deaths in the United States, 10-15% are directly associated with preeclampsia and eclampsia. A history of preeclampsia or SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy is associated with higher odds of developing preeclampsia. It is also more common in women over 35, Black women, and teens. 

When does it usually occur?

  • In pregnancy, preeclampsia typically develops after 20 weeks, but it can occur earlier.
  • In postpartum, preeclampsia  typically occurs within the first 7-10 days after giving birth, but is a risk up to 6 weeks postpartum. 

Why is it dangerous?

While treatable, preeclampsia can go undetected because symptoms can often resemble common pregnancy and postpartum ailments. For example, high blood pressure is a common indicator, but people may not know what that feels like or recognize it as a sign. Left undiagnosed, it could lead to serious complications which can be fatal. With early diagnosis and treatment, most women with preeclampsia and eclampsia have healthy pregnancies and babies.

Postpartum preeclampsia can be difficult to identify because it often occurs after you have been discharged from the hospital or birth center. In the United States you may not have many follow-up appointments to monitor your health in the first 6 weeks after giving birth when the risk of postpartum preeclampsia is highest. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia and to monitor your blood pressure at home.

What can I do about it?

Be your own advocate

Preeclampsia is a very serious condition that progresses quickly and is often hard to detect.⁠ Knowing what to look for can make all the difference. If you think you might be experiencing symptoms and are concerned, ask your healthcare provider to conduct appropriate tests which may include checking your blood pressure, urine, and monitoring your baby.

Learn to take your own blood pressure

Talk with your healthcare provider about how to take your own blood pressure, identify readings that are normal for you, and what ranges to look out for

  • If your blood pressure is at or over 140/90, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
  • If your blood pressure is at or over 160/110 seek emergency medical attention.
Studies have shown that home monitoring of blood pressure during pregnancy and postpartum is safe and may help reduce your risk of pregnancy-related complications. Blood pressure cuffs can be easily purchased in local pharmacies or online retailers. You can ask your healthcare provider for brand recommendations. If you have health insurance, an at-home blood pressure monitor may be covered.You can also ask your provider if they have monitors available to borrow.


Discuss low-dose (81mg) aspirin

Talk with your healthcare provider about whether low-dose (81mg) aspirin is right for you. Studies have shown that low-dose aspirin can reduce preeclampsia risk by 20% for those at moderate to high risk.

Attend regular prenatal appointments

Your care team will routinely check your blood pressure and may also check your urine for protein. Ask your provider how often they check your urine. Be sure to share any new symptoms you may be experiencing, such as headaches, swelling, vision changes, or shortness of breath.

When should I be worried?

If you experience any of the symptoms below, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Early diagnosis and intervention can be life-saving for you and your baby. Medical management may include medications to control your blood pressure, seizure prevention, and close monitoring of your baby. Ultimately, the best treatment for preeclampsia in pregnancy is the delivery of your baby. Your healthcare provider can discuss options with you, given the severity of your condition and the gestational age of your baby, to make a treatment plan.

Bodily does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.

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