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Pregnant? Know the Warning Signs of Preeclampsia

doctor with pregnant woman
melissa march, md
Melissa March, MD

Developing high blood pressure during late pregnancy may signal preeclampsia. Untreated, this condition may threaten both mother and child. Fortunately, preeclampsia is usually easily detected during prenatal care visits, and close monitoring can help women who develop it stay healthy and deliver healthy babies.

A better understanding of preeclampsia, how it is treated, and whether you are at risk can help you safeguard the health of you and your baby.

Test your knowledge with this true or false quiz, created with the help of Melissa March, MD, maternal fetal medicine specialist at UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital.

1. In preeclampsia, the fetus may receive less oxygen than normal.

True. Preeclampsia is a disorder in which the mother’s high blood pressure may limit blood supply to the placenta and fetus. This may result in the fetus receiving less oxygen and fewer nutrients. This can cause poor growth, low amniotic fluid and more serious complications.

2. Having high blood pressure during pregnancy means you have preeclampsia.

False. High blood pressure during pregnancy, called gestational hypertension, doesn’t necessarily mean you have preeclampsia. It’s only one symptom of preeclampsia. Pregnant women who notice any of the following possible warning signs should talk with their doctors:

  • Swelling that doesn’t disappear after resting (especially in the face and hands)
  • Gaining more than 5 pounds a week
  • Severe headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Abdominal pain

3. A woman’s age affects her risk for preeclampsia.

True. Being younger than age 20 or older than age 35 boosts the risk. Other risk factors include:

  • Developing either gestational hypertension or preeclampsia during an earlier pregnancy, or having a history of high blood pressure
  • Having medical conditions such as diabetes, lupus and kidney disease
  • Carrying more than one baby at a time
  • Being obese
  • First pregnancy
  • Having a family history of preeclampsia

4. Women at risk for preeclampsia can take steps to help prevent this disease.

True. Experts advise women with a high risk for preeclampsia to take low-dose aspirin daily starting at the beginning of the second trimester, which reduces their risk. Talk with your doctor about your risk. Exercise during pregnancy may help prevent preeclampsia, as well as other complications, such as gestational diabetes.

5. A toxin called “toxemia” causes preeclampsia.

False. While people did previously believe that this disorder was caused by a toxin, healthcare providers now know this is not true.

6. Doctors may recommend delivering the baby early to treat preeclampsia.

True. If you have preeclampsia and your pregnancy is at 37 weeks or later, the doctor will usually opt to deliver the baby to avoid further complications. If your pregnancy is at less than 37 weeks, the doctor may consider the following options:

  • Wait to deliver and monitor as an outpatient (if preeclampsia is mild)
  • Admit to the hospital for close observation until delivery
  • Treat blood pressure with oral medications
  • Deliver at 34 weeks gestation (or earlier) if preeclampsia is severe

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UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital provides exceptional prenatal care for women with high-risk pregnancies. Find out more at UHhospitals.org/Pregnancy