Preeclampsia is a serious medical condition that afflicts pregnant women who are typically 20 weeks or further along. The condition is characterized by high blood pressure and signs of injury to major organ systems.
Untreated preeclampsia can result in serious or even fatal consequences for both mother and baby. For this reason, it is imperative that both moms-to-be and their providers are familiar with the signs of preeclampsia and work together to either manage the symptoms or treat the condition through delivery right away.
Symptoms of preeclampsia
It is not uncommon for mothers-to-be to develop preeclampsia without any warning signs. While a rise in blood pressure is one of the first signs of the condition, blood pressure can rise gradually or spike quickly. To account for either situation, monitoring blood pressure is a routine part of prenatal care. A blood pressure reading that exceeds 140/90 on two separate occasions at least four hours apart is cause for concern.
Many women develop high blood pressure between visits and without any way to take a reading. For this reason, Mayo Clinic urges OB/GYNs to inform their patients of the warning signs of preeclampsia, which may include one or several of the following:
- Severe headaches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Upper abdominal pain, typically beneath the ribs on the right side
- Changes in vision, such as blurred vision, sensitivity to light or temporary loss of vision
- Decreased urine output or excess protein in the urine
- Impaired liver function
- Shortness of breath
Some women may retain fluid and swell, especially in the face or hands. However, this is a normal part of pregnancy so is not a reliable sign of preeclampsia.
Complications of untreated preeclampsia
Per March of Dimes, untreated preeclampsia can cause severe adverse health effects for both mom and baby, which may include death. For the mother, health problems may include impaired liver or kidney function, brain damage, issues with blood clotting, eclampsia (a condition that causes seizures or coma after preeclampsia) or stroke. For baby, preeclampsia may result in premature birth, placental abruption, low birth weight and intrauterine growth restriction. The best way women can prevent worst-case-scenario outcomes is to attend all their prenatal appointments and inform their doctors of any abnormal side-effects they experience during pregnancy.