Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related disorder in which the mother’s high blood pressure reduces the blood supply to the fetus. This means the fetus may get less oxygen and fewer nutrients.
What causes it?
The causes of preeclampsia are unknown. Researchers including those at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development are working to understand what causes the condition so it can be prevented and better treated.
What are the risks to the mother?
Women with preeclampsia are at increased risk for organ damage or failure, preterm birth, pregnancy loss, and stroke. Preeclampsia can develop into eclampsia, which is characterized by seizures and coma.
What are the risks to the fetus?
Risks include lack of oxygen and nutrients, preterm birth, and stillbirth. Infants born preterm due to preeclampsia are at higher risk of some long-term health issues mostly related to being born early. These include learning disorders, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, deafness, and blindness.
What are the symptoms?
Preeclampsia symptoms include high blood pressure, too much protein in the urine, and systemic problems such as headache, blurred vision, and upper abdominal pain on the right side. Women may also experience swelling in the face and hands.
What are the treatments?
For women at high risk, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends taking a low-dose aspirin starting after the first trimester to prevent preeclampsia. Delivering the fetus can help resolve preeclampsia, but symptoms can continue even after delivery. If the pregnancy is at less than 37 weeks, health care providers may consider treatments that give the fetus more time to develop. These include close monitoring, intravenous medication to control blood pressure, and steroid injections to help speed up the development of the fetus’s lungs.