A common and dangerous pregnancy condition

Preeclampsia is a unique medical condition connected to pregnancy, which affects both the mother and child. It is characterized by the elevation of the mother’s blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy, and by the presence of excessive protein in her urine.

The Preeclampsia Foundation estimates that this condition affects 5-8 percent of all pregnancies. Preeclampsia often leads to premature birth, and more serious problems. The foundation also estimate that preeclampsia and other problems with hypertension in pregnancy are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year, making them a leading cause of illness and death among mothers and infants.

shutterstock_223004008Recognize the Signs

Certain symptoms can be key indicators of preeclampsia: swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision. As mentioned, problems generally arise after 20 weeks gestation (late 2nd or 3rd trimesters).

Some women with preeclampsia report few symptoms, however. For this reason, regular check-ups and quality prenatal care are vital.

The cause is unknown. Theories have pointed to inflammation, lack of proper blood flow, hormone imbalance, preexisting conditions, nutritional deficiencies and genetics.

How Does Preeclampsia Affect Baby?

Preeclampsia is responsible for about a fifth of all preterm births each year, according to preeclampsia.org. It can also cause reduced blood flow to a mother’s placenta, meaning the child can become malnourished.

Preeclampsia has also been linked to challenges later in life for the child, such as cerebral palsy, deafness and epilepsy.


Treatment for this medical condition varies, according to how far along the mother is, and the progression of the disease. The kidneys, liver and blood pressure will be carefully analyzed. Magnesium sulfate may be given as an anticonvulsant. Antihypertension medications may also be used.

In cases of severe preeclampsia, the doctor may determine that the baby will not survive in the uterus, and premature delivery is the best option.


Taking a baby aspirin daily throughout the pregnancy reduces the likelihood of getting preeclampsia, and regular exercise has been shown to also decrease risk. For a variety of reasons, avoiding excessive weight gain in pregnancy is important.

Myths About Preeclampsia

  • Only overweight women get it.
    • This is false, though obesity and excessive weight gain do raise the level of risk.
  • It only happens in first pregnancies.
    • This is mostly true, but all pregnancies are at risk.
  • If you eat well, you won’t get it.
    • Diet has little connection to preeclampsia, studies show. Healthy eating is important for you and your baby, of course, but it’s unrelated to preeclampsia.