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What You Need to Know About Preeclampsia

written by: Janelle Martel • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 6/2/2011

If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you have probably looked up possible complications and be looking for answers. Find out what preeclampsia is and how it is diagnosed and treated.

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    What is Preeclampsia? Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs during pregnancy and causes complications for the mother and baby. If a doctor suspects preeclampsia, he or she can order tests to confirm the condition. While there is no cure for preeclampsia besides delivering the baby, there are ways to treat the symptoms.

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    Symptoms

    If you are pregnant and experience any of the following symptoms, you should consult your doctor or midwife.

    • Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Refer to a blood pressure chart to find out whether your blood pressure is normal or high. For example, a systolic blood pressure of 140 or greater or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 or greater is considered high blood pressure. Your blood pressure should be taken at prenatal checkups, but you can also check your blood pressure with an aneroid monitor.
    • Headaches. If you have preeclampsia, you may experience severe headaches. While some headaches during pregnancy are normal, if you have headaches that are very painful or reoccurring, you should let your doctor know.
    • Proteinuria refers to protein in the urine. You likely have your urine tested whenever you go for a prenatal checkup and lab techs use the urine sample to check for protein. If you have increased levels of protein in your urine, you may have preeclampsia.
    • Vision problems. Another symptom of preeclampsia is vision problems. You may notice your vision blurring and you may even lose your vision if you have preeclampsia.
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    Testing

    When you visit your doctor for prenatal checkups, your blood pressure and urine will be monitored. These tests often detect preeclampsia before the patient has reason to suspect having the disorder. If your doctor suspects that you have preeclampsia based on your blood pressure and urine tests, he or she may order a blood test to confirm preeclampsia and tests to monitor your unborn child's health.

    • Blood test. Your doctor may order a blood test if preeclampsia is suspected, to find out what your blood count is. A low blood platelet count is symptomatic of preeclampsia.
    • Ultrasound. Since preeclampsia can affect the health of the fetus, your doctor may order an ultrasound to make sure the baby is fine. An ultrasound monitors amniotic fluid levels and the baby's growth.
    • Nonstress test. A nonstress test checks the baby's heart rate. A nurse attaches a fetal heart rate monitor to the mother and stimulates the baby to make him move. When he moves, his heart rate should increase. As long as the baby's heart rate increases 15 beats per minute twice in a 20 minute period, he is fine.
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    Complications

    Preeclampsia can cause problems for both the mother and the fetus, especially if the condition is not monitored and treated.

    • Placental abruption. Placental abruption means the placenta has detached from the uterine wall. This can cause heavy bleeding and according to Mayo Clinic, placental abruption can cause premature birth, stillbirth and maternal shock.
    • Decreased blood flow. Another complication that can occur because of preeclampsia is decreased blood flow to the fetus. When the blood flow to the fetus is decreased or cut off, this causes the fetus to lose oxygen and nutrients. Decreased blood flow can lead to premature birth and death of the fetus.
    • HELLP Syndrome. HELLP Syndrome refers to hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. Hemolysis is the term for the red blood cells breaking down too soon, which causes an imbalance between the amount of red blood cells breaking down and the amount of blood cells being produced. This syndrome occurs in 10 percent of women with preeclampsia, according to Medline Plus, and can cause liver damage and blood clotting.
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    Treatment

    There is no medicinal cure for preeclampsia, as the condition goes away only when the baby is born. There are some ways to control preeclampsia symptoms, including bed rest and medication. When a doctor orders bed rest, the patient must rest and limit physical activity. This helps lower blood pressure and may increase blood flow to the fetus. The doctor may prescribe medications to lower blood pressure and improve liver function.