Understanding Preeclampsia During Pregnancy

Expert Reviewer: 
Eleni Tsigas

pregnant woman getting her blood pressure checked for preeclampsiaOur editors sat down with Eleni Tsigas, executive director of the Preeclampsia Foundation, to find out more information about this common condition. To learn everything you need to know about preeclampsia, read her answers below.

Q: What is preeclampsia?

A: Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs during pregnancy and is characterized by high blood pressure in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. It affects about 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies in the United States. Several conditions or factors may lead to preeclampsia, but scientists have not pinpointed the cause. Studies have looked at autoimmune disorders, blood vessel issues, poor diet and genetics, but results are inconclusive.

Although all women are at risk, those who are obese, pregnant for the first time, expecting multiples, older than 35 or have a history of diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease have a higher risk of developing preeclampsia.
As with most conditions, early detection of preeclampsia may lead to better treatment, and knowing the signs and symptoms is key to prompt diagnosis. Keep in mind that not all women will experience illness or severe effects of the condition, but preeclampsia, which can be quite serious, can develop into eclampsia—seizures that are not related to a preexisting brain condition. If you are at high risk for preeclampsia, discuss your risks and diagnosis with your health care professional.

Q: Does preeclampsia have recognizable symptoms?

A: While many pregnant women experience swollen feet, swelling in the face and hands, as well as sudden weight gain, these can be signs of preeclampsia. Talk to your health care professional about getting tested for preeclampsia if you have those or other possible symptoms of preeclampsia, such as: