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Preeclampsia, eclampsia and gestational hypertension are all conditions that involve high blood pressure during pregnancy. Gestational hypertension develops after the 20th week of pregnancy in women who have normal blood pressure before becoming pregnant. It typically doesn't have symptoms or affect the mother or baby's health and usually goes away after delivery.
Preeclampsia also develops after the 20th week of pregnancy in women with previously normal blood pressure. However, preeclampsia can harm both you and your baby. It can affect your kidneys, liver and brain, and it’s a leading cause of complications such as low birth weight, premature birth and stillbirth. Preeclampsia can progress into a life-threatening condition called eclampsia, which causes seizures, coma and even death.
Whether you have high blood pressure before you become pregnant or develop gestational hypertension or preeclampsia, you require special monitoring and care during pregnancy.
Who’s at Risk for Preeclampsia?
Although researchers don't know what causes preeclampsia, you're more likely to develop the condition if you:
- Have high blood pressure before you become pregnant or you’ve had gestational hypertension or preeclampsia during a previous pregnancy.
- Are overweight before you become pregnant.
- Are under 20 or over 40 years old.
- Have diabetes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or scleroderma.
- Are pregnant with more than one baby.
Although there’s no way to prevent preeclampsia, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk. Entering pregnancy at a healthy weight and getting good prenatal care can make a positive difference in the health of you and your baby.
Additional steps you can take to minimize your risk include:
- If you have high blood pressure or one of the conditions that can increase your risk, talk to your doctor beforehand to learn how it will affect your pregnancy and what you can do to maintain good health. If you’re taking medication, find out if you need to make any changes.
- During pregnancy, avoid alcohol and tobacco, and talk to your doctor about any over-the-counter or prescription medicines you’re taking or are considering taking.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
If you develop signs of the condition, your doctor will monitor you closely to minimize or prevent problems. Possible symptoms include:
- High blood pressure (above 140/90).
- Protein in your urine.
- Swelling in your face and hands — your feet could also swell, but that’s common in pregnancy and not necessarily a sign of preeclampsia.
- Persistent headache, blurred vision or light sensitivity, and abdominal pain.
Your doctor can diagnose preeclampsia by checking your blood pressure and urine during prenatal visits. If your blood pressure is high, your doctor will conduct more extensive testing to diagnose your condition and develop a treatment plan.
Typically, if your baby is 37 weeks or older, your doctor will recommend delivery to avoid further complications. When your baby is younger than 37 weeks, your doctor may consider other options that can give your baby more time to develop.
At El Camino Hospital, our obstetricians work closely with other specialized clinicians to develop a care plan that minimizes your risk and allows your baby to mature as much as possible before delivery. Depending on your condition, treatment can range from increased monitoring, bed rest and medications to hospitalization or premature delivery.
Our specialists have the expertise to determine the safest options and they work closely with you to create a care plan that’s right for you and your baby. We believe that keeping you informed and involving you in your care plan is an important part of our exceptional care.
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