4 Signs of Preeclampsia & Your Best Treatment Plan

Pregnant woman with hands placed in heart over belly; considering preeclampsia treatment options

Saying pregnancy is an emotional whirlwind is putting it mildly. From finding out to freaking out about symptoms, to what to eat/not eat and how to prepare your home, you do everything possible to make sure your baby is healthy and safe. One thing you can’t control: preeclampsia. Breanna Herring, CNM, UnityPoint Health, covers the diagnosis and takeaways you need to know for preeclampsia treatment.

Signs of Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a potentially life-threatening blood pressure condition (gestational hypertension) that can develop during the second half of pregnancy. Most often, preeclampsia is diagnosed any time after 20 weeks, being more common in the third trimester. Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Vision changes
  • Pain in the upper abdomen

If your provider suspects you are developing preeclampsia, he or she will order blood and urine tests to check liver and kidney function.

“The exact cause of preeclampsia isn’t well understood, but abnormal blood vessels in the placenta seem to trigger this condition in some women,” Herring says.

Preeclampsia is more common in both younger women and in women over 40. Herring says older mothers may also be at a higher risk due to pre-pregnancy conditions, including diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

“Preeclampsia can affect any pregnant woman, but there are some families with stronger histories of this disorder. Genetics could play a role, if you have high blood pressure prior to pregnancy,” Herring says.

Other preeclampsia risk factors include:

  • Having babies very close in age
  • Using invitro fertilization to become pregnant
  • Carrying twins or higher multiples
  • During your first pregnancy or your first pregnancy with a new partner

Preeclampsia Treatment

Preeclampsia treatment depends on how far along your pregnancy is when you’re diagnosed. There’s no medication that can treat the underlying cause of preeclampsia, and while bed rest may be helpful in some cases, it won’t necessarily be recommended. Herring says if you are far from your due date and have mild preeclampsia, your provider may try to monitor your pregnancy closely and potentially place you on medication to help keep your blood pressure stable, while waiting for the baby to grow and develop.

“Ultimately, the condition won’t get better until the baby is born. If you are close to your due date, your provider may recommend delivering the baby, either by induction of labor or by C-section. If you are far from your due date but have severe preeclampsia, this also might be recommended,” Herring says.

Preeclampsia Delivery Risks

Many women with preeclampsia are able to deliver naturally, unless your preeclampsia is severe or you’ve already had a C-section. But, Herring says because preeclampsia can progress quickly and cause severe health problems for you or your baby, the chance of delivering your baby early as you approach your due date is much higher – meaning you’ll likely meet your little one before 40 weeks. 

For moms wondering, “Is, or will, my baby be ok?,” Herring reassures that, thankfully, the majority of preeclampsia cases in the U.S. are successfully diagnosed and treated. However, there are some risks for baby.

“Rarely, if preeclampsia develops prior to viability (around 24 weeks), delivering the baby may be necessary to save the life of the mother. In these cases, the baby isn’t likely to survive. Other risks include placental abruption, which causes hemorrhage in the mother and may result in severe injury, or death, to both mom and baby. The baby also has risks associated with preterm delivery, if mom has to deliver early, as well as the risk of growth restriction from not getting enough oxygen or nutrition from the placenta,” Herring says.

Herring also says staying aware of your symptoms after delivery matters, too.

“Although preeclampsia is directly related to pregnancy, it can still occur in the weeks after delivery. If you develop any of the preeclampsia warning signs listed above, you should call your provider for an appointment.”

Is Preeclampsia Preventable?

Eating a healthy diet may lower your risk for preeclampsia, but there is no preeclampsia treatment diet. While not necessarily preventable, controlling your blood pressure before becoming pregnant can help reduce your chances of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy.

“If you have a history of preeclampsia with a previous pregnancy, your provider may also recommend taking an aspirin during your pregnancy, which appears to lower the risk as well,” Herrings says.

Herring says providers are able to help most moms with preeclampsia deliver safely. However, it remains a dangerous condition. If you develop preeclampsia, you should monitor your blood pressure and risk for heart disease, liver failure and stroke later in life.

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