Preeclampsia: What You Need to Know About This Common Complication

When you find out you’re pregnant, you likely assume you will have a completely healthy pregnancy. Complications during pregnancy are not often at the top of any expecting mama’s mind, but being aware of the possibility and the signs to look for is the best thing you can do for your health and that of your growing little one. The most common complication of pregnancy is preeclampsia, but many women are unaware of what it is or what it entails until it happens to them.

Preeclampsia is a condition during pregnancy where there is a sudden rise in blood pressure and swelling, usually in the face, hands and feet.  When ignored or left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, which can cause convulsions and comas, and in some cases, is fatal. Preeclampsia affects 3 to 5 percent of pregnancies, so being aware of what to look for is imperative for your health.

When to Watch for It

There are no known exact causes of preeclampsia, but it is assumed that it involves the blood vessels of your placenta, as well as your genetics. Take a look at your family history, and ask your mother, aunts, grandmothers if they had any issues with preeclampsia.

Symptoms will typically begin to show around your 20th week of pregnancy, and can even continue all the way up until a month after your delivery. You should always be paying attention to and listening to your body during your pregnancy — if anything seems strange or off in your health, be sure to speak with your medical provider immediately.  Better safe than sorry.

What to Look for

There are a large range of symptoms or signs of preeclampsia, so make sure you’re aware and looking for all of them. If you experience any of the below, call your doctor right away.

Spike in blood pressure. Your doctor should be monitoring your blood pressure at each of your prenatal appointments, but make sure you’re aware of it yourself. Any blood pressure reading greater than 140/90 is a sign of preeclampsia.

Rapid weight gain. During pregnancy, it’s healthy to gain some weight as you’re growing your tiny human. However, if you see a sudden change in your weight over the course of a day or two, it should cause a little alarm.

Abnormal swelling. Preeclampsia can cause a sudden swelling in your face, hands and eyes. If your face appears puffy or your hands feel uncomfortable and swollen, it’s time to see the doctor.

Severe headache or blurred vision. Blurred vision should always cause some concern, but especially when paired with a severe headache or migraine. Don’t try to power through these!

Excessive vomiting. If you’re experiencing something that feels like more than morning sickness, call your doctor!

Decreased urination. You should be hydrating like crazy during pregnancy, which will always result in extra bathroom trips. If you’re starting to notice you have stopped swinging into every bathroom but are still drinking the same, check in with your self.

What Complications Does It Cause?

Preeclampsia doesn’t just cause your blood pressure to rise and make your extremities swell — it can also cause some pretty scary complications on top of it, which is why it’s so important for you to watch for the symptoms.

  • Severe bleeding after your delivery due to abnormal blood clotting
  • Strokes
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure
  • And, of course, eclampsia

Can You Prevent It?

Your doctor will let you know if you are at risk for preeclampsia, and can offer medication for it, but there are other ways to help lower your risk.

Magnesium. Studies show that magnesium can lower your risk of preeclampsia, morning sickness and those awful leg cramps. Make sure your prenatal vitamins include magnesium, or try adding leafy greens, nuts, fish, beans and avocados into your diet.

Calcium. The ideal way to supplement calcium is through the intake of certain foods. Try salmon, dried figs, kale or almonds.

B Vitamins. This one may be a no-brainer – B vitamins are essential in female fertility, menstrual health and pregnancy health.

Vitamin C & E.

Increased fiber intake.

Potassium. Be careful with this one — never supplement potassium on it’s own, as it can be dangerous. Instead, shoot for adding it into your diet with foods like yellow cucumbers and bananas.

Protein. Keeping good levels of protein is essential to your health in almost every time of your life. Make sure you have a good rotation of legumes, eggs and lean meats in your diet to keep those levels high.

Sex. There are studies that show that sex with a long-time partner can help reduce your chances of preeclampsia. Get it on, mama!

Staying hydrated. We seriously can’t stress this one enough.  Always keep a water bottle filled and on hand.

Exercise. Exercising during pregnancy is always a good idea. However, experts say that daily stretching can be far more effective in staving off preeclampsia than other exercises like walking or jogging.

Swimming. Daily water immersion can help lower your blood pressure, which is imperative in keeping preeclampsia at bay.

We know that preeclampsia can be a scary word to hear thrown around, but being aware of it and all it entails is the best way to help prevent it or keep it handled. Make sure you’re talking with your doctor about your chances/risks for preeclampsia, medication and staying monitored. Stay healthy, that little one is on the way!

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