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Signs of preeclampsia in pregnancy

Women who are expecting a baby should be aware of a serious condition that can develop in pregnancy. Preeclampsia occurs when an expectant mother’s blood pressure becomes elevated and protein accumulates in urine. This condition – estimated to affect up to eight percent of all pregnancies – can be serious for both the mother and her baby if not properly monitored.

“Preeclampsia may be suspected when an expectant mom develops high blood pressure and new symptoms, such as increased swelling, headaches, and rapid weight gain,” said Nicole Falls, M.D., a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology with Maury Regional Medical Group OB-GYN.

While symptoms can occur earlier in pregnancy, preeclampsia typically begins in the third trimester. If not properly monitored, preeclampsia can lead to serious health concerns for the mother and her baby, such as seizures, heart attack, stroke, kidney and liver impairment, placental abruption, intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and other complications which can increase need for early delivery.

To determine if preeclampsia is occurring, a medical provider checks blood pressure, blood work and protein in urine. If a woman is diagnosed with preeclampsia, her provider will determine the next steps. Depending on the mother’s health and the baby’s development, the course of treatment could include modified bed rest, blood pressure medications and steroid injections. Early delivery may be recommended as well for the health of mother and baby.

Expectant mothers should watch for signs of preeclampsia and report to their OB-GYN if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Swelling of the legs, feet and hands
  • Weight gain over a short period of time
  • Pain in their upper abdomen or chest
  • Severe headaches or dizziness
  • Blurred vision or other vision changes
  • Lack of urination
  • Decreased fetal movements

“Keeping your regular visits to your OB-GYN throughout your pregnancy is important so that your blood pressure and urine can be monitored for any signs that may point to preeclampsia,” said Dr. Falls.

Expectant mothers should speak to their OB-GYN about their particular risk for preeclampsia and ways to reduce the risk such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle by drinking plenty of water, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, limiting processed foods in their diet and exercising regularly. In addition, taking baby aspirin during pregnancy if you have risk factors (such as chronic hypertension, diabetes, obesity, twins or a prior history of preeclampsia) has been shown to decrease the risk of development of preeclampsia.

Nicole Falls, M.D., is a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology associated with Maury Regional Medical Group OB-GYN in Columbia, Tennessee.


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