Preeclampsia: The Pregnancy Illness with Lasting Consequences


What Is Preeclampsia & What Are the Symptoms

What is preeclampsia and what are the symptoms? It’s one of the most searched terms on the internet — and with good reason.

Also known as toxemia, preeclampsia has been treated the same way for decades: deliver the baby. Yet, it is still responsible for 18 percent of maternal deaths in the United States. And, there’s now evidence that preeclampsia leads to lasting consequences for some women, ranging from postpartum depression (PPD) to a higher risk of kidney and cardiovascular problems in later life.

Preeclampsia is essentially pregnancy-induced hypertension, or high blood pressure. If left untreated, the BP can hit stroke levels, causing organ shutdown of kidneys and causing seizures. If it hits that point, it’s no longer preeclampsia. It’s called eclampsia instead.

Eclampsia leads to death, often rapidly.  Remember Sybil from Downton Abbey? She died in a heartbreaking episode (Spoiler alert!) of eclampsia after she delivered her baby.

The symptoms for preeclampsia usually start in the second or third trimester. While the clincher is super high BP, some of the other symptoms are more subtle. They might include things that usually happen in a pregnancy: upper abdominal pain, weight gain, water retention, and headaches. All of these things should be mentioned to an OB, who will probably dipstick your urine and check for protein spillage, indicating kidney involvement.

Other big red flags: blurred vision, decreased urine output, and nausea. If you have any of these things, hustle to a doctor, stat.

Once diagnosed, some women are put on bedrest to drag out the time until the delivery is safer; more time in utero means better lung development and better chance of surviving a premature delivery. Some, however, are induced immediately or have an emergency c-section.

The only true treatment for preeclampsia is to get the baby delivered. Usually that results in an immediate lowering of the life threatening BP levels, although not always.