Risks of Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

By | October 10, 2018

One in 20 pregnancies will result in preeclampsia. What exactly is preeclampsia and how does it impact blood pressure? We spoke with Mary Cascio, MSN, RNC, about preeclampsia, and what it means before, during and after pregnancy, and what symptoms you should look for.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia (sometimes referred to as toxemia) is a disorder women can experience during pregnancy that is characterized by high blood pressure and often a significant amount of protein in the urine.

“No one really knows what causes preeclampsia or who is going to get preeclampsia,” said Cascio. “We have to educate everyone on the possibility of it so people are aware of when to seek help.”

Some researchers suspect poor nutrition or high body fat can be potential risk factors, and even insufficient blood flow to the uterus. A common misconception about preeclampsia is that it can be cured after birth, however, preeclampsia can occur even after delivery of the baby – known as postpartum preeclampsia.

According to Cascio, risk factors of preeclampsia are stroke and seizures. Some women might develop higher blood pressure only during pregnancy – this is referred to as pregnancy-induced hypertension and is a different condition from preeclampsia. Cascio says if a woman’s blood pressure during pregnancy is at a 140/90, “We will start paying close attention.”

Who is at risk?

Preeclampsia is most often seen in first-time pregnancies, pregnant teens and in pregnant women over 40. While it is known to occur in women who have never had high blood pressure, other risk factors can include:

  • History of high blood pressure prior to pregnancy
  • Personal or family history of preeclampsia
  • History of obesity
  • Carrying more than one baby
  • History of diabetes, kidney disease, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
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Cascio says that preeclampsia usually occurs with your first pregnancy and suggests getting prenatal care and follow up with your provider if you’re not feeling well.

Signs and symptoms:

  • Rapid weight gain or swelling caused by an increase in bodily fluid
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe headaches (that Tylenol doesn’t help)
  • Nausea
  • Blurred or spotted vision

Does preeclampsia affect the baby?

Preeclampsia can affect the baby by restricting the baby’s growth. Essentially, the baby is not getting sufficient blood from the placenta. Since the placenta is the fetus’s only source of nourishment, this can cause intrauterine growth restriction.

After giving birth

If gestational diabetes is present, it is important to remember that it may go away after birth, but mothers are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. All pregnancies related to high blood pressure and gestational diabetes do not go away after the baby is born. If you had complications or high blood pressure during pregnancy, it’s important to take care of yourself after birth:

  • Visit your primary care provider 3-6 months after birth, in addition to your birth-related follow-up visits, to check your overall physical health and discuss any complications you might have experienced during pregnancy.
  • Get a copy of your pregnancy and postdelivery medical records to share with your providers for the rest of your life.
  • Breastfeed as long as possible – women whose total lifetime breastfeeding is 6-12 months were 10 percent less likely to develop heart disease (and it’s good for the baby too).

Mary Cascio, MSN, RNC, is the Manager of Labor and Delivery at Mission Hospital.

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