Iowa Specialty Hospital

Maternity Center: Preeclampsia

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Preeclampsia is a serious disease related to high blood pressure. It can happen to anyone between 20 weeks of pregnancy and 6 weeks after delivery.  Many women who get preeclampsia do not have clear risk factors.

Preeclampsia SymptomsTalk with your OB/GYN provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Headache that will not go away
  • Seeing spots, blurry vision, or other eyesight changes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the face or hands
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Nausea and vomiting in the second half of pregnancy
  • Pain in the shoulder or upper abdomen

You may need to see your OB/GYN provider earlier and more often after childbirth so they can monitor your health. You should also tell any future health care providers that you had preeclampsia as you may be more likely to have health problems in the future when you are not pregnant including: high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease.  

Elevated Blood Pressure in Pregnancy

Why is high blood pressure a problem during pregnancy?

  • High blood pressure can lead to health problems at any time in life. 
  • During pregnancy, severe or uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause problems for you and your baby.
  • A serious high blood pressure disorder called preeclampsia can also happen during pregnancy or soon after childbirth. 

How is preeclampsia diagnosed?

  • High blood pressure may be the first sign of preeclampsia.
  • If your blood pressure is very high, it may be rechecked to confirm the results. 
  • Your urine will be checked for protein.
  • You may also have lab tests done to check your liver and kidney function and to measure the number of platelets in your blood. 

How is preeclampsia treated?

  • You and your doctor will talk about how to manage your condition.
  • The goal is to limit complications for you and to deliver the healthiest baby possible. 
  • Many factors guide the provider’s decision about how to manage preeclampsia, as it’s a serious condition that needs to be managed carefully. 
  • The doctor will monitor blood pressures and assess laboratory tests.
  • The main treatment is the delivery of the baby. 
  • If preeclampsia develops close to the end of the pregnancy, the doctor may recommend inducing labor or performing a cesarean section to deliver the baby.
  • If preeclampsia occurs earlier in the pregnancy, there may be close monitoring of the mother and baby, medications may be given to lower the blood pressure, and steroid injections may be necessary to help the baby’s lungs mature faster in case early delivery is needed.

What does preeclampsia do?

  • Preeclampsia can cause your blood pressure to rise and lead to signs of damage to other organs systems.
  • It can impair kidney and liver function. It can also cause blood clotting problems, fluid in the lungs, seizures, and, in severe cases or if left untreated, maternal and infant death. 
  • Preeclampsia affects the blood flow to the placenta, which can result in smaller or prematurely born babies, restricted fetal growth, or a stillborn birth. 

If my first pregnancy was normal, can I still develop preeclampsia?

  • If you had a normal first pregnancy, your risk of having preeclampsia in the next pregnancy is very low. 
  • However, if you have other risk factors (such as advanced maternal age, excess weight, or history of hypertension) you should be watchful and alert to early warning signs. 

If I had preeclampsia with a previous pregnancy, can I get preeclampsia again?

If you’re planning on becoming pregnant again after experiencing preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy, you may have some concerns. Here is what you can expect.

  • Deciding to try again is a highly individualized situation. Talk with your primary health care provider about becoming pregnant and what recommendations they have for you. They may examine any underlying risk factors or health issues that may affect a future pregnancy to help get them under control. It is important to understand your personal risk based not only on population-wide statistics but also on your own personal situation. Essentially, do what you can while also recognizing that nothing absolutely prevents preeclampsia. 
  • Once you have a positive pregnancy test, contact your primary health care provider and they will schedule you for your first appointment. They will monitor you closely and encourage you to be watchful and alert to early warning signs. 
  • Women do go on to have healthy pregnancies and babies after experiencing preeclampsia. Talk with your primary health care provider to reduce anxiety. Developing a strong support system will also help reduce anxiety. This system can include friends, family, clergy, therapist, provider, and more.  

Taking a Proper Blood Pressure at Home

How can I take my blood pressure at home?

  • Sit in a chair with your back supported and your arm at heart level.
  • Have your feet flat on the ground (not dangling).
  • Don’t cross your feet.
  • Sit quietly for 5 or 10 minutes before taking your blood pressure.
  • Place a blood pressure cuff on your bare upper arm; do not place over clothing.
  • Keep your arm straight at heart level.
  • Take an additional blood pressure reading 15 minutes after the first one, and use the higher blood pressure reading. 
  • If it’s 140/90 or higher, further evaluation is needed. Call your doctor right away. 

What can I do to help get a more accurate blood pressure reading?

  • Do not talk while taking your blood pressure.
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol, and caffeine for 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure.
  • Empty your bladder and avoid any food or drink for 30 minutes before a reading.
  • Sit quietly for 5-10 minutes before measuring your blood pressure.
  • Relax.

What do blood pressure numbers mean?

  • A blood pressure has two numbers separated by a slash.
  • For example, a reading of 110/80 is referred to as 110 over 80.
  • The first number, in this case 110, is called the systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts and pumps blood.
  • The second number, in this case 80, is called diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes and fills with blood.

Postpartum Preeclampsia

What causes postpartum preeclampsia?

  • Exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown.

Can you get postpartum preeclampsia without having preeclampsia during pregnancy?

  • Yes, you can!
  • Postpartum preeclampsia can develop in women who did or did not have preeclampsia during pregnancy. 
  • It is possible that this condition starts during pregnancy but does not show signs or symptoms until after the baby has arrived. 

When does postpartum preeclampsia occur?

  • Most commonly within the first 7 days after delivery.
  • BUT you are still at risk for postpartum preeclampsia up to 6 weeks after giving birth.

What can I do to prevent or treat postpartum preeclampsia?

  • Preeclampsia cannot be prevented.
  • Learn the warning signs and pay attention to your body, so you can spot symptoms right away.
  • Prompt treatment saves lives.

I’m experiencing symptoms. I called my healthcare provider, but I haven’t heard back.

  • Trust your instincts and always seek medical care if you are not feeling well or you feel something is not right.
  • Go to the nearest emergency room and tell them you have recently given birth.
  • Notify your doctor of your decision to seek medical help. 

I went to the Emergency Room and was sent home, and now I am feeling worse. What should I do?

  • Trust your instincts!
  • If you are experiencing warning signs of postpartum preeclampsia, go back to the emergency department, request to be seen by an OB/GYN provider, and report you have recently given birth. 
  • Notify your health care provider that you are experiencing symptoms and are at the hospital. 


After Delivery - Recognizing These Signs Can Save Your Life

Call Your Healthcare Provider Right Away

If you can't reach your healthcare provider,
call 911 or go to an Emergency Department
and report that you have recently been pregnant.

  • Blood pressure at or exceeding 140/90
  • Severe headache that won't go away
  • Vision changes
  • Stomach pain
  • Swelling in your hands and face
  • Feeling nauseous or throwing up
Have Someone Take You to the ER or Call 911
  • Blood pressure at or exceeding 160/110
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Seeing spots
  • Seizures


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