• Emily Reul, PT, DPT

May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month!

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

It’s May, which means it’s National Preeclampsia Awareness Month. Chances are you’ve probably heard of preeclampsia, but what is it?

Preeclampsia falls under a broad category of pregnancy “hypertensive disorders,” which is a fancy name for high blood pressure. Preeclampsia is the new onset of high blood pressure that often occurs AFTER week 20 of the pregnancy and frequently near the delivery date. (ACOG, 2019)

Preeclampsia is often diagnosed when a pregnant woman is found to have both high blood pressure and protein in her urine. (ACOG, 2019) Physicians often consider preeclampsia as two blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher, or one blood pressure reading of 160/100 mmHg or higher.

High blood pressure can impact many different functions of the body from the brain (increased risk of stroke), the kidneys, the liver, and more.

Preeclampsia can present with some or all of the following symptoms, or sometimes, no symptoms at all (ACOG, 2019):

  1. Swelling of the face (especially around the eyes), hands, ankles, or legs

  2. Weight gain of more than 5 pounds in 1 week

  3. Severe headache that won’t go away even after taking medication

  4. Changes in vision like seeing spots or flashing lights, partial or total loss of eyesight

  5. Nausea or vomiting suddenly

  6. Right-sided pain under the rib cage

  7. Severe heartburn

  8. Difficulty breathing, gasping, or panting

It is extremely important to contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of these symptoms. If untreated, preeclampsia can progress to eclampsia. Eclampsia is a medical emergency and can cause significant harm to both the mother and the baby. Eclampsia can cause seizures, kidney failure, liver damage, stroke, blindness, and death of the mother and/or baby.

While anyone can have preeclampsia, some are more at risk than others. The following increase your chances of getting preeclampsia (ACOG, 2019):

  • First pregnancy/never having given birth

  • Pregnant with multiples

  • Pre-eclampsia in previous pregnancy

  • History of high blood pressure

  • Pre-gestational diabetes or gestational diabetes

  • Autoimmune disorders like systemic lupus erythematosus or antiphospholipid antibody syndrome

  • Obesity

  • Maternal age >35 years

  • Kidney disease

  • Sleep apnea

  • Assisted reproductive technology