What is preeclampsia and what should I do about it?

Consult with the maternal-fetal medicine team.

Preeclampsia is a disorder that affects 5% to 8% of pregnancies in the United States. Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia usually occur after the 20th week of pregnancy up until your due date. The condition also can occur after delivery up until six weeks postpartum.

The diagnosis of preeclampsia is made by your obstetric provider. It can occur in a spectrum, from just an elevation in blood pressure, up to maternal seizures called eclampsia. Preeclampsia is diagnosed by a finding of an elevation of blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy with or without protein present in the urine.

Signs of preeclampsia

While a majority of patients with preeclampsia will have healthy babies and fully recover, a few will experience severe complications. Because the condition can progress rapidly, early recognition of preeclampsia signs and symptoms could save your life and the life of your baby.

Symptoms of preeclampsia can include:

  • Headaches
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Visual disturbances such as flashes of light or very blurred vision

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact your health care provider.

Who Is at Risk for Preeclampsia?

If you have any of the risk factors below, talk with your health care provider about prevention strategies for preeclampsia.

Preexisting conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Hypertension
  • Lupus

Other risk factors can include:

  • First pregnancy
  • Multiples (twins, triplets, quadruplets)
  • History of preeclampsia
  • Maternal age over 35
  • Obesity (a body mass index over 30)
  • Persons of color

Preeclampsia Treatment

Primary treatment for preeclampsia is careful observation of the mother, along with symptom management. If symptoms persist and get more severe, or do not respond to medication or intervention, you and your health care provider may decide to deliver the baby early.

Norton Women’s Care offers a complete range of services with an emphasis on caring for the whole woman — mind, body and spirit. That includes heart care, bone care, cancer care and wellness care, in addition to gynecological care at adolescence, pregnancy, motherhood, midlife and beyond.

We apply our multidisciplinary approach to women’s health with an understanding that your body is different, your symptoms can be different and your care should be different. Our obstetricians and gynecologists work closely with the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Women’s Heart Program to provide specialized female cardiology care.

Reviewed by Lyndsey D. Neese, M.D., MMM, FACOG, an OB/GYN with Norton Women’s Care and medical director of quality for women’s services at Norton Healthcare.

How We’ll Care for Your Complex Pregnancy, Delivery and Newborn

  • Our caring team of over 10 highly experienced maternal-fetal medicine physicians ensures easier access to expertise for your complex pregnancy.
  • Our compassionate patient navigators who are registered nurses provide one-on-one support and guide you through your pregnancy care, including coordinating appointments.
  • Maternal-fetal medicine offices in downtown Louisville, St. Matthews, Bowling Green, Elizabethtown and Paducah all provide the same level of specialized care.
  • Deliver down the hall from the Norton Children’s Hospital’s Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) — the highest rated in Louisville and Southern Indiana — or the Level III NICU at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital.
  • We bring together a team of experienced specialists from Norton Children’s to prepare for your baby’s specialized care after birth. They will review your baby’s development and create a comprehensive plan to ensure the best possible care.
  • Depending on your condition, you may deliver at your home hospital; if necessary, the Norton Children’s Hospital  “Just for Kids” Transport Team will bring your baby to a Norton Children’s NICU in Louisville.
  • You can keep your OB/GYN for your delivery while getting the expertise of the maternal-fetal medicine team caring for your health and the health of your baby or multiples.
  • Medicaid and most commercial insurance plans are accepted.
  • Communicate with your medical provider, manage appointments and get alerts if an earlier appointment becomes available through your free Norton MyChart account.

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