Pre-Eclampsia, The Real Risks

Preeclampsia 101: The Facts, Risks, and Warning Signs

One of the most serious complications during the pregnancy and postpartum seasons I see as a doula, is Pre-Eclampsia. This diagnosis tends to come with a lot of fear, and many risks are misunderstood. Questions about what to do next, serious risks associated with the disorder, and birth plans sometimes out of the window at least partially- mothers and families are typically pretty distraught when this diagnosis comes into play.

Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. It is estimated that these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year.

Education regarding this complication and the warning signs to look out for are critical to protecting the well-being of mothers and babies worldwide.

Hopefully, we can address some of that here!

What Is Pre-Eclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period and affects both the mother and the unborn baby. Affecting at least 5-8% of all pregnancies, it is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and usually the presence of protein in the urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision are important symptoms. However, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms. 

Typically, preeclampsia occurs after 20 weeks gestation (in the late 2nd or 3rd trimesters or middle to late pregnancy) and up to six weeks postpartum (after delivery), though in rare cases it can occur earlier than 20 weeks. Proper prenatal care is essential to diagnose and manage preeclampsia. Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH) and toxemia are outdated terms for preeclampsia. HELLP Syndrome and eclampsia (seizures) are other variants of preeclampsia. 

Typical Preeclampsia Treatments:

Treatments include medications to prevent seizures (typically magnesium sulfate given via IV in the hospital) and to lower blood pressure (pregnancy-safe antihypertensive or blood pressure medications). Ultimately, delivering the baby is the most effective treatment, although some mothers will get worse before they get better, and an even smaller number will develop preeclampsia for the first time after delivery (this is typically known as postpartum pre-eclampsia).

Warning Signs:

Important symptoms that all women pregnant and postpartum should watch out for, that may suggest preeclampsia are headaches, abdominal pain, shortness of breath or burning behind the sternum, nausea and vomiting, confusion, heightened state of anxiety, and/or visual disturbances such as oversensitivity to light, blurred vision, or seeing flashing spots or auras. Preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy impact 5-8% of all births in the United States.

I specialize in hospital births in Central MS, if you have been diagnosed with or have a history of Pre-Eclampsia, Contact me today! I would love to work with you to make this experience easier. For more information, check out the resources below!


Birth Doula/Owner, Mississippi Baby Company