Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure condition that can happen to some pregnant women and needs close medical attention.  The MaineHealth family of doctors knows how important it is monitor and care for preeclampsia to help protect the health of both mom and baby.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is when a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy and shows signs of other organ systems not working correctly such as swelling, headache, and protein in the urine.

If not treated properly, both mom and baby can have serious health issues. Preeclampsia can lead to liver, kidney, bleeding problems and even seizures and brain damage if not managed correctly.   Your healthcare provider will look for sign and symptoms of preeclampsia during your prenatal care.

Most times, women with preeclampsia give birth to normal, healthy babies.

Symptoms and signs of preeclampsia

  • High blood pressure

  • Quick weight gain (outside of normal pregnancy weight gain)

  • Sudden swelling of legs, face and hands

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy

  • Bad headache

  • Upper belly or shoulder pain

  • Getting sick to your stomach during the second half of pregnancy

  • Hard to breathe

Lots of these signs and symptoms can be a normal part of pregnancy.  It is important to let your healthcare provider know if you have any of these symptoms.

Who gets preeclampsia?

Experts are not completely certain what causes preeclampsia and why some pregnant women get it while others don’t. 

There are some factors that put women at risk:

  • First pregnancy

  • Having preeclampsia before

  • Having high blood pressure when you get pregnant

  • You are pregnant with more than one baby

  • A family history of preeclampsia

  • Being over 40

  • Use of IVF (in vitro fertilization) to help become pregnant

  • Being obese

Treating preeclampsia

The only way to cure preeclampsia is to have the baby.  The severity of preeclampsia will determine how it is managed. 

  • Women with mild preeclampsia are closely followed by their healthcare provider and have blood pressure checks and urine tests regularly to make sure it’s not getting worse. They may also be asked to stay home and limit activity.

  • Women with severe preeclampsia may need to stay in the hospital and be closely monitored. Sometimes labor might be induced. (This is when the healthcare provider starts labor with medicine or other methods.) Medicines might also be given to speed up the development of the baby’s lungs.

Help with high-risk pregnancies

The Maine Medical Partners Maternal-Fetal medicine clinic provides expert care for high-risk pregnancies. The focus is on keeping Mom and baby healthy and safe.
Learn more