Beware the Dangers of Preeclampsia

Posted by Eric Peterson, M.D. on Jan 6, 2016 1:27:58 PM

It’s hard to avoid the ongoing news coverage about Kim Kardashian’s pregnancies, but I will say this, it has cast a spotlight on a subject worth talking about: preeclampsia. This is a condition that can cause discomfort, anxiety and fear. Knowing what to look for, what your risks are and having good communication with your physician can lead to a lot of reduced stress in the long run. Preeclampsia is one of those health issues pregnant women should educate themselves about so they know when a concern should turn into a doctor’s appointment.

Preeclamsia Has Serious Risks

Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs during pregnancy, typically during the third trimester, and usually includes several heath issues, the most common of which are high blood pressure and an abundance of protein in the urine. This disorder affects between 5 and 10 percent of pregnancies worldwide. If it’s left untreated, it can cause serious, even fatal, complications for the mother and her baby.  These can include a breakdown in red blood cells and kidney functions, separation of the placenta from the uterus before delivery, heart disease, premature birth and seizures.

Signs and Symptoms Aren’t Necessarily Obvious


The symptoms of preeclampsia can be difficult to spot because some are common during pregnancy. Swelling of the hands and face can be an indicator. Though swelling during pregnancy is common, the type of swelling that occurs with preeclampsia is typically more severe. Oftentimes, after it is touched, the skin will remain indented for a short period of time – this is called pitting edema. Other symptoms to look for are: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen
  • Reduced urine output
  • Shortness of breath from fluid in the lungs
  • Diminished liver function

Because the symptoms of preeclampsia are common side effects to pregnancy, it’s important to take a personal inventory and determine if you’re exhibiting more than one at a time. The bottom line is, if you’re worried, it’s best to make an appointment with your physician. 

Some Women Have Higher Risk than Others

While no one is necessarily immune to preeclampsia, there are some risk factors that make some women more predisposed to the disorder. Knowing whether you have risk factors going into your pregnancy can help you be more prepared to deal with any potential occurrence of the disorder. On the other side of that, knowing that you do not have the risk factors may help reduce stress if you’re having some of the common pregnancy side effects also shared by preeclampsia. Here are the risk factors you need to be aware of that could raise your risk of having preeclampsia: 

  • Prepregnancy history of high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease or obesity
  • First-time pregnancy
  • Family history of preeclampsia
  • Pregnancy after the age of 35
  • Carrying multiple babies
  • Past kidney donor


It’s important to remember that having the risk factors does not mean you will have preeclampsia and having no risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll be free of the disorder. Having regular blood pressure and urine checks throughout pregnancy, knowing the signs of preeclampsia to watch for and being comfortable with asking your physician questions about your status can go a long way on the road to a pregnancy with reduced stress. 



Dr. Eric Peterson is a board-certified Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center. He’s a certified da Vinci® surgeon, offering minimally invasive surgery for gynecological procedures, such as laparoscopic hysterectomy. In addition, he performs Novasure, Ther​ma Choice and other laparoscopic procedures. 


Topics: pregnancy, preeclampsia, preeclampsia symptoms, preeclampsia risks

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