Preeclampsia is a complication of pregnancy that is diagnosed based on having high blood pressure along with certain abnormal lab tests or symptoms such as headaches, vision changes, or abdominal pain.
With preeclampsia complicating 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies, it’s important to know that while delivery is considered the cure, the aftereffects of this condition can last a lifetime. These steps can help you communicate your history to your healthcare team and ensure you get the screening and monitoring you need.
Understand your increased risks
The first step is understanding what having preeclampsia means for your health moving forward. People who have had preeclampsia are at approximately double the risk for developing cardiovascular issues like hypertension, heart attacks, stroke, and dying from cardiovascular complications than those who’ve never had the disease. That risk increases to a 4 to 8-fold increase if you’ve had preeclampsia more than once, very early in your pregnancy, or had it so severely that it required giving birth prematurely.
Tell your primary care doctor
While the above statistics may sound scary, knowing them means you are able to be proactive and not reactive. This might sound obvious, but letting your primary care provider know about your preeclampsia history is important. Unfortunately, you can’t guarantee that your records from your pregnancy and birth will automatically make it to your PCP’s office, so telling them directly and asking them to obtain those records means this will be part of your permanent chart moving forward.
This handout is a fantastic way to communicate your pregnancy and preeclampsia details to your provider, and also is a wonderful way to track your numbers and remind you of your health goals (more on this below!)
Aim for a healthy lifestyle
While this is a goal for everyone, for someone who has had preeclampsia this is even more important to decrease the chance for cardiovascular complications later in life. This means having an active lifestyle, achieving a healthy weight, and adopting a heart-healthy diet. If you aren’t sure where to begin, ask your provider for a referral to a nutritionist or dietician to help.
Know your numbers
One way to monitor for cardiovascular disease is to keep an eye on your blood pressure. Your goal should be to keep it at or below 120/80. Monitoring your cholesterol and blood sugar (either through a fasting blood sugar or a blood test that tells us your average blood sugar over the past 3 months) is important in being able to identify high cholesterol and pre-diabetes or diabetes early on. For more information on the ideal numbers in these categories you can read this information from the Preeclampsia Foundation website.
If you smoke, stop!
Smoking is bad for your health for many reasons, but for preeclampsia survivors it’s even more important to quit, or if you’re not ready, to cut back. Let your provider know if you need help with cessation as there are treatments like therapy and medications that can help.
Ask for baby aspirin in your next pregnancy
If you get pregnant again, don’t wait on making that first prenatal visit and be sure to discuss taking a low-dose aspirin. Recent studies have shown that starting a low dose (81mg/day) aspirin between 12 to 28 weeks of pregnancy (though ideally by week 16) and staying on it until you give birth decreases the chance for recurrent preeclampsia and having a baby affected by growth restriction (being too small).
Having preeclampsia can be scary, but acknowledging this part of your health history can empower you moving forward to living a long, happy life.
- While the cure for preeclampsia is delivery, aftereffects can last a lifetime.
- All future healthcare providers should know your history with preeclampsia.
- If you plan on having more children, discuss preventative measures with your healthcare team.