Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Preeclampsia (say "pre-ee-clamp-see-ah"), which
is also called toxemia, is a problem that occurs in some women during pregnancy.
It can happen during the second half of pregnancy. Your doctor will look for the
following signs of preeclampsia: high blood pressure, swelling that doesn't go
away and large amounts of protein in your urine (found during urine
Who is at risk for
Preeclampsia is more common in a woman's first
pregnancy and in women whose mothers or sisters had preeclampsia. The risk of
preeclampsia is higher in women carrying multiple babies, in teenage mothers and
in women older than age 40. Other women at risk include those who had high blood
pressure or kidney disease before they became pregnant. The cause of
preeclampsia isn't known.
Does high blood
pressure mean I have preeclampsia?
Not necessarily. If your doctor sees that your
blood pressure is high, he or she will watch you closely for changes that could
mean you have preeclampsia. In addition to high blood pressure, preeclampsia
often has two more related problems, protein in the urine and excessive
swelling. Many women with high blood pressure during pregnancy don't have
protein in their urine or extreme swelling, and don't get
Does swelling mean
I have preeclampsia?
Swelling alone doesn't necessarily mean you have
preeclampsia. Some swelling is normal during pregnancy. For example, your rings
or shoes might become too tight. Swelling is more serious if it doesn't go away
after resting, if it's very obvious in your face and hands, or if it's a rapid
weight gain of more than 5 pounds in a week.
What tests can
show if I have preeclampsia?
No one test diagnoses preeclampsia. Your blood
pressure will be checked during each doctor's visit. A big rise in your blood
pressure can be an early sign that you might have preeclampsia. A urine test can
tell if there is protein in your urine. Your doctor may order certain blood
tests, which may show if you have preeclampsia. If you have signs of
preeclampsia, your doctor may want to see you at least once a week and possibly
What are the
risks of preeclampsia to the baby and me?
Preeclampsia can prevent the placenta (which
gives air and food to your baby) from getting enough blood. If the placenta
doesn't get enough blood, your baby gets less air and food. This can cause low
birth weight and other problems for the baby.
Most women with preeclampsia still deliver
healthy babies. A few develop a condition called eclampsia (seizures caused by
toxemia), which is very serious for the mother and baby, or other serious
problems. Fortunately, preeclampsia is usually detected early in women who get
regular prenatal care, and most problems can be prevented.
What is the
treatment for preeclampsia?
If you have preeclampsia, delivery of the baby
is the best way to protect both you and your baby. This isn't always possible,
because the baby may be too little to live outside of the womb.
If delivery isn't possible because it's too
early in your pregnancy, steps can be taken to manage the preeclampsia until the
baby can be delivered. These steps include making your blood pressure drop, with
bed-rest or medicines, and keeping a close eye on you and your baby. In some
cases, hospitalization may be necessary.
One way to control high blood pressure when
you're not pregnant is to cut the amount of salt you eat. This isn't a good
idea if you have high blood pressure during pregnancy. Your body needs salt
to keep up the flow of fluid in your body, so you need a normal intake of salt.
Your doctor will tell you how much salt to eat each day and how much water you
should drink each day.
Your doctor might tell you to take aspirin or
extra calcium to prevent preeclampsia. Your doctor might also tell you to lie on
your left side while you are resting. This will increase the flow of urine and
take weight off your large blood vessels. Many doctors give magnesium sulfate to
their patients during labor and for a few days afterward to help prevent
eclampsia. Talk to your doctor about these things.
If my doctor
decides to deliver the baby early, will I have to have a cesarean
This is up to your doctor and you. A cesarean
section (an operation to deliver the baby) is more likely if your health or your
baby's health is in danger. If things aren't this serious, your doctor may use
medicine (such as Oxytocin) to start your labor, and you can deliver your baby
normally through a vaginal delivery.
Symptoms of Preeclampsia
If you have any of these symptoms, call your
doctor right away:
- Severe headaches
- Vomiting blood
- Excessive swelling of the feet and hands
- Smaller amounts of urine or no urine
- Blood in your urine
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive nausea
- Ringing or buzzing sound in ears
- Excessive vomiting
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Sudden blindness
- Pain in the abdomen (tummy)