Risks of Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

One in 20 pregnancies will result in preeclampsia. What exactly is preeclampsia and how does it impact blood pressure? We spoke with Mary Cascio, MSN, RNC, about preeclampsia, and what it means before, during and after pregnancy, and what symptoms you should look for.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia (sometimes referred to as toxemia) is a disorder women can experience during pregnancy that is characterized by high blood pressure and often a significant amount of protein in the urine.

“No one really knows what causes preeclampsia or who is going to get preeclampsia,” said Cascio. “We have to educate everyone on the possibility of it so people are aware of when to seek help.”

Some researchers suspect poor nutrition or high body fat can be potential risk factors, and even insufficient blood flow to the uterus. A common misconception about preeclampsia is that it can be cured after birth, however, preeclampsia can occur even after delivery of the baby – known as postpartum preeclampsia.

According to Cascio, risk factors of preeclampsia are stroke and seizures. Some women might develop higher blood pressure only during pregnancy – this is referred to as pregnancy-induced hypertension and is a different condition from preeclampsia. Cascio says if a woman’s blood pressure during pregnancy is at a 140/90, “We will start paying close attention.”

Who is at risk?

Preeclampsia is most often seen in first-time pregnancies, pregnant teens and in pregnant women over 40. While it is known to occur in women who have never had high blood pressure, other risk factors can include:

Cascio says that preeclampsia usually occurs with your first pregnancy and suggests getting prenatal care and follow up with your provider if you’re not feeling well.

Signs and symptoms:

Does preeclampsia affect the baby?

Preeclampsia can affect the baby by restricting the baby’s growth. Essentially, the baby is not getting sufficient blood from the placenta. Since the placenta is the fetus’s only source of nourishment, this can cause intrauterine growth restriction.

After giving birth

If gestational diabetes is present, it is important to remember that it may go away after birth, but mothers are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. All pregnancies related to high blood pressure and gestational diabetes do not go away after the baby is born. If you had complications or high blood pressure during pregnancy, it’s important to take care of yourself after birth:

Mary Cascio, MSN, RNC, is the Manager of Labor and Delivery at Mission Hospital.

Do you need an OB/GYN or primary care provider? Visit missionhealth.org/providerfinder [1] to find one in your area. Learn more about women’s care and labor and delivery at Mission Health at missionhealth.org/womens [2].