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The Pressure Is On—Understanding Preeclampsia Through 4 FAQs

Apr 18, 2024

5 min read

Expectant parents prepare for joy along with challenges. Here, we shine a light on Preeclampsia, offering essential insights for a safe pregnancy journey.

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Pregnant woman at a doctor's clinic
Dr Lakshmi Vaswani

DR LAKSHMI

VASWANI

The nursery has been decorated; the pregnancy books have been read from page to page; the Lamaze class hasn’t been missed even once— every expectant parent has a never-ending checklist of things they need to do to prepare for their baby's arrival. 

Unfortunately, for 2% to 10% of birthing individuals globally and up to 15% in India, this excitement is overshadowed by concern as they are diagnosed with Preeclampsia. Suddenly, they find themselves navigating a sea of new information, medical terms, and concerns about their health and that of their unborn baby.

We shed light on Preeclampsia, meaning high blood pressure during pregnancy, a common yet complex condition affecting many expectant parents. Ticking off five frequently asked questions about Preeclampsia, we guide birthing people as they navigate their pregnancy, offering insights into managing the health and well-being of both themselves and their babies.

4 Frequently asked questions about preeclampsia

Preeclampsia, meaning high blood pressure during pregnancy, often causes damage to organs like the liver and kidneys. It is known to occur after the 20th week of pregnancy and can pose significant risks if not properly managed.

While rare, Preeclampsia can also develop after childbirth, most commonly within 48 hours but potentially up to 6 weeks post-delivery.

1. What puts you at risk for developing Preeclampsia?

Possible causes of Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia causes are not well known, but certain factors may put one more at risk, for example:

  • First-time pregnancy
  • Episode of Preeclampsia in an earlier pregnancy
  • Multiple pregnancies (eg, twins, triplets)
  • Family history of Preeclampsia
  • Obesity
  • Age above 35 years
  • Pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or autoimmune disorders

2. What signs of Preeclampsia should you look out for?

Signs of Preeclampsia

People often don’t notice or recognise preeclampsia symptoms, making regular prenatal check-ups even more important. 

Key symptoms include:

  • Swelling (hands, face and around the eyes)
  • Sudden weight gain over a short period
  • Headaches that are severe and persistent
  • Vision changes (blurriness, light sensitivity, seeing spots or flashing lights)
  • Stomach pain, especially under the ribs on the right side
  • Nausea or vomiting in the later stages of pregnancy
  • Difficulty breathing or gasping for air

The last is often the preeclampsia symptom that hits the hardest.

3. What could happen if preeclampsia isn't managed properly?

Possible consequences of preeclampsia

Without timely and effective management, preeclampsia can escalate into serious health issues that endanger both the mother and the baby. Key complications include:

  • Eclampsia: This severe progression of Preeclampsia involves maternal seizures and can be life-threatening for both the mother and her child.
  • HELLP Syndrome: This stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count; HELLP syndrome occurs in less than 1% of all pregnancies but in 10–20% of cases with severe preeclampsia and significantly increases health risks in the form of excessive bleeding and need for blood transfusion.
  • Organ Damage: Preeclampsia can lead to damage to vital organs, notably the liver and kidneys. This damage can result in long-term health problems.
  • Premature Birth: Early delivery may be needed to prevent further health complications, exposing the newborn to various health risks, from repeated infections, low birth weight and stunted growth. 

4. What steps are taken to manage preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia management

If preeclampsia is diagnosed, a doctor would recommend:

  • Blood pressure monitoring
  • Rest or sometimes even bed rest will help lower blood pressure
  • Medication to help manage and control blood pressure
  • Guidance on eating healthy and safe exercises

In some cases, if the Preeclampsia is severe, delivering the baby earlier than the due date might be the safest option. However, it is mainly recommended for those at high risk. 

Navigating the unknown: The emotional impact of preeclampsia

Preeclampsia often takes expectant mothers on a challenging journey, both emotionally and physically. Described as a "condition of uncertainty," parents often find themselves with more questions than answers, struggling to understand the complexities of their Preeclampsia diagnosis and its implications for both themselves and their unborn child.

“I felt like it was my fault for delivering my girls early. I started therapy to help with these feelings, and it is something I definitely recommend doing so mothers know they didn’t do anything wrong,” says Emily Rubel as she shares her story with the Preeclampsia Foundation. 

The emotional toll of navigating preeclampsia highlights the importance of support, understanding, and comprehensive care for those affected.

Awareness matters

Awareness is crucial to enhance early detection, improve outcomes, and reduce the health risks associated with preeclampsia. In that spirit, World Preeclampsia Day on May 22 aims to spotlight the condition and cut global cases from 7 million to 3 million annually. The 2023 theme focuses on "Advancing Preeclampsia Research" to learn more about preeclampsia causes. 

A diagnosis of preeclampsia might seem overwhelming, but knowledge and awareness are powerful tools in navigating this challenge. Listening to the body's signals and connecting with support networks can guide families toward a positive and healthy pregnancy outcome.

Medically Reviewed by:
Dr Binita Jindal - Obstetrician and Gynaecologist


Dr Lakshmi Vaswani

Dr Lakshmi Vaswani is the Lead Writer at Health Verse, a medical communications agency, and a Marketing Consultant for leading national and international health companies. As a Clinical Pathologist and hospital administrator for over 15 years, she uses her experience to bring a unique perspective to her role as a Medical Content Writer for B2B and B2C audiences in the health, pharmaceutical, marketing and wellness industries. She has also trained marketing personnel and medical and scientific faculty through workshops in medical content creation.


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