Recognizing the signs of preeclampsia, affecting 1 in 20 pregnancies

Women's Health

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month. The goal is to draw attention to the fact that 1 in 20 pregnancies are affected by the condition, and it’s one of the leading causes of maternal and infant death. 

“It’s a condition that definitely has mom at risk so we need to always be focused on that,” said OBGYN Dr. Katherine Cartwright with Albany Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Preeclampsia is the most common pregnancy complication. Usually developing during the third trimester, it’s characterized by a sudden rise in blood pressure.

“Some of the more severe symptoms of preeclampsia can be really severe headaches or vision changes, really fast onset swelling sometimes is a sign that brings patients in just from one day to the next,” said Dr. Cartwright.

But initial symptoms, like high blood pressure can be silent, which is why prenatal appointments are so important. 

“Ultimately, the only cure for preeclampsia is delivery,” she said.

Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious, even fatal, complications for both mother and baby.

“If someone develops preeclampsia really early on when it’s not an ideal time to deliver a baby, then we’re sort of weighing out when would be the best time for mom and when would be the best time for baby to deliver,” said Dr. Cartwright.

The exact cause is unknown, but women with a history of high blood pressure or who have diabetes or lupus are more at risk. Women who are heavier or are carrying multiples, like twins or triplets, are also at a higher risk. Teenagers are more likely to develop preeclampsia and then the risk increases again after the age of 35.

The dangers of preeclampsia don’t end after delivery. It can occur up to six weeks after birth, so new moms need to continue to monitor themselves.

“Someone who goes home and suddenly feels terrible, has an unrelenting headache, takes their blood pressure at home and it’s elevated, it’s really, really important that they call their doctor and get evaluated for that,” said Dr. Cartwright.

If a woman is far from the end of her pregnancy, a doctor may advise bed rest, but closer to the end, a baby may need to be delivered right away, by C-section.  Although the condition can be serious and even fatal, complications from preeclampsia are extremely rare if the mother attends her prenatal appointments.

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