Preeclampsia is defined as high blood pressure that develops in the second half of pregnancy and is associated with too much protein in your urine, along with other concerning findings such as headaches, vision changes, or pain coming from your liver. You can also be diagnosed with preeclampsia if you have high blood pressure with low platelets (platelets are a blood component that aids in blood clotting) or abnormal liver tests.
Preeclampsia affects 5-8 percent of pregnancies. Women who are at increased risk for developing preeclampsia include first-time moms, African American women, women 35 or older, and women who are obese, have a history of hypertension, or are carrying twins.
Preeclampsia is a serious complication because it can affect the growth of your baby as well as lead to maternal seizures (called eclampsia). Once you have this diagnosis, your pregnancy is labeled as high risk and you will be watched very closely.
Your doctor may opt to admit you to the hospital to observe you or may actually recommend delivery (delivery is the only true cure for preeclampsia, though it can also develop or worsen after you deliver in a subset of women). Only in very mild cases can women be managed with preeclampsia at home.
If your blood pressure remains high, your doctor may give you blood pressure medication orally or in an IV. If you are admitted to the hospital, it is very likely that you will be started on a medicine called magnesium sulfate, which works best in pregnancy in preventing seizures. Additionally, if your doctor is worried that you need to deliver prematurely, you will be given steroid injections to help mature your baby’s lungs and the blood vessels in his or her brain and intestines.
Having preeclampsia is not a reason to automatically have a C-section. If your doctor decides you do need to deliver your baby before you go into labor on your own, an induction of labor is often the preferred method of delivery.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, November 2018
- Preeclampsia is a disorder of pregnancy associated with high blood pressure and too much protein in the urine.
- Preeclampsia affects 5-8 percent of pregnancies.
- If you have preeclampsia, you may need to be admitted to the hospital or delivery your baby early.
- Certain risk factors are associated with developing preeclampsia.