Recognizing and managing preeclampsia symptoms

Preeclampsia is sometimes called pregnancy-induced hypertension, but elevated blood pressure is only part of the story. Women with preeclampsia also have high concentrations of protein in their urine, which provides an important clue to caregivers seeking to diagnose the condition. It is a medical condition that only occurs in pregnant women.

It is extremely important that you see your prenatal caregiver right away if you notice symptoms or signs of preeclampsia. Left untreated, the condition may progress to violent seizures known as eclampsia, which are very serious and could even be fatal to your or your baby.


Preeclampsia Symptoms

First, you need to understand risk factors for preeclampsia. It occurs most often in women who are pregnant with their first child, younger than 20, older than 40, obese, or those who have a family history of preeclampsia. It is also more likely to strike women who are pregnant with more than one child, and women with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and certain other medical conditions are at increased risk. If you had high blood pressure before becoming pregnant, you may be at risk for chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia, which essentially means that your high blood pressure evolved into preeclampsia when you became pregnant. It is very important to monitor your blood pressure in pregnancy, throughout the entire nine months as well as after giving birth.

Signs of preeclampsia include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden increase in body weight
  • Severe headaches
  • Vision changes or temporary loss of vision
  • Pain in your upper abdomen (typically on your right side, under your rib cage)
  • High blood pressure
  • Excess protein in urine
  • Decreased urine volume

Managing Preeclampsia

The only thing that will cure preeclampsia is giving birth or terminating your pregnancy, so your doctor will carefully monitor your symptoms and recommend case-specific treatments, depending on the severity of your condition and how far along you are in your pregnancy. If you are close to your due date, your doctor might recommend inducing early labor to avoid the potentially life-threatening complications of preeclampsia.

Diets for pregnant women with preeclampsia are aimed at keeping blood pressure in check. Your prenatal caregiver may recommend lowering your sodium and fat intake, and drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day. Plenty of rest is another commonly prescribed treatment, taking care to lie on your left side so as not to put excess pressure on your major blood vessels. Medications such as anticonvulsants, corticosteroids and antihypertensives may also be given to you, depending on your condition.