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Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure condition that develops during pregnancy. People with preeclampsia often have high blood pressure (hypertension) and high levels of protein in their urine (proteinuria). Preeclampsia typically develops after the 20th week of pregnancy. It can also affect other organs in the body and be dangerous for both the mom and her developing fetus (unborn baby). Because of these risks, preeclampsia needs to be treated by a healthcare provider.

What are the most common complications of preeclampsia?

If left untreated, preeclampsia can be potentially fatal to both you and your baby.

Before delivery, the most common complications are preterm birth, low birth weight or placental abruption.

Preeclampsia can cause HELLP syndrome (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count). This happens when preeclampsia damages your liver and red blood cells and interferes with blood clotting. Other signs of HELLP syndrome are blurry vision, chest pain, headaches and nosebleeds.

After you’ve delivered your baby, you may be at an increased risk for:

  • Kidney disease.
  • Heart attack.
  • Stroke.
  • Developing preeclampsia in future pregnancies.

How is preeclampsia treated?

Your healthcare provider will advise you on the best way to treat preeclampsia. Treatment generally depends on how severe your preeclampsia is and how far along you are in pregnancy.

If you’re close to full term (37 weeks pregnant or greater), your baby will probably be delivered early. You can still have a vaginal delivery, but sometimes a Cesarean delivery (C-section) is recommended. Your healthcare provider may give you medication to help your baby’s lungs develop and manage your blood pressure until the baby can be delivered. Sometimes it is safer to deliver the baby early than to risk prolonging the pregnancy.

When preeclampsia develops earlier in pregnancy, you’ll be monitored closely in an effort to prolong the pregnancy and allow for the fetus to grow and develop. You’ll have more prenatal appointments, including ultrasounds, urine tests and blood draws. You may be asked to check your blood pressure at home. If you are diagnosed with severe preeclampsia, you could remain in the hospital until you deliver your baby.

If the preeclampsia worsens or becomes more severe, your baby will need to be delivered.

During labor and following delivery, people with preeclampsia are often given magnesium intravenously (directly into the vein) to prevent the development of eclampsia (seizures from preeclampsia).

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