Dr. Shannon M. Clark discusses preeclampsia with Dr. Shannon Hardy of Bella OBGYN! Watch the video at the end!
If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, be sure to read because this is what you need to know about preeclampsia!
By definition, “Preeclampsia (pre-e-CLAMP-si-a) is a condition unique to human pregnancy. It is diagnosed by the elevation of the expectant mother’s blood pressure usually after the 20th week of pregnancy.”
Blood pressure disorders are the most common medical complication experienced during pregnancy, occurring in approximately 5-10% pregnancies, and preeclampsia is the most common blood pressure disorder. Although the primary finding is high blood pressure, it can also be associated with other signs of damage to various organ systems. Damage to the kidneys is most commonly seen, and usually results in excess amounts of protein in the urine.
Preeclampsia is usually diagnosed after 20 weeks of gestation, but most often will develop after 37 weeks of gestation. If it occurs before 34 weeks of pregnancy it is considered “early onset preeclampsia. It can also occur during the postpartum period! Your obstetrician will check for signs of preeclampsia at each prenatal visit by checking your blood pressure and assessing your urine for protein; these assessments increase with more frequent prenatal visits towards the end of pregnancy.
Your obstetrician will also screen for symptoms of preeclampsia at each visit.
Symptoms include the following:
- Headache that doesn’t go away with over-the-counter medications Visual changes
- Mid-abdominal or right upper abdominal pain
- Any new-onset nausea and vomiting (typically after 20 weeks)
- Swelling in the face, hands, or extremities
Some of the symptoms of preeclampsia can resemble “normal” occurrences of pregnancy. In addition, some women will not experience any of the symptoms and, therefore, be quite surprised when they find out they have it. If you are not sure if what you are experiencing is normal, it is best to ask your obstetrical care provider.
Currently, there is no sure way to prevent preeclampsia. Some contributing factors to high blood pressure can be controlled and some can’t. Follow your doctor’s instructions about diet and exercise, as well as these follow these tips:
Two items that I recommend to have on hand during pregnancy are a blood pressure monitor and low-dose aspirin. The blood pressure monitor is great if you need to keep a close watch on your blood pressure–be sure to right down all blood pressure measurements in case your doctor wants to review them. The low-dose aspirin is commonly used to prevent or delay the onset of preeclampsia. Your doctor may recommend that you take it if you have certain risk factors. Always follow your physician’s instructions before taking this medication.
This table from the US Prevention Services Task Force illustrates how low-dose aspirin would be administered to someone who might be at risk of developing preeclampsia.