Rachel Gueller was thrilled to find out that she was pregnant at the age of 25. “I always wanted to be a young mom,” says the Chicago native. “Plus, I figured the chances of anything going wrong were slim, due to my age.” At her 5-month check-up, however, her doctor noted an increase in her blood pressure. The next day the doctor ran a few more tests, re-checked her blood pressure, and discovered that the mom-to-be had preeclampsia.
In fact, approximately 200,000 to 300,000 women in the United States are affected by preeclampsia each year, says Priya Agrawal, BMBCh, an ob-gyn and the former Director of Research and Development for the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health. In fact, in the last two decades, the rate of preeclampsia has increased by 25 percent, making it one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related complications. If left untreated, the condition can be fatal for both mom and baby.
The challenging part about preeclampsia is that many of the symptoms, such as weight gain, headaches, and swelling, occurs in normal pregnancies. That’s why regular prenatal visits — and open, brutally honest discussions with your ob-gyn — are key. “Preeclampsia is similar to an immune illness, with the mother showing an abnormal response to the placenta tissue,” says Eduardo Raez, MD, an ob-gyn in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. Since pregnancy is the cause of the condition, the only treatment is delivery, he adds. If diagnosed with preeclampsia, the goal is to keep the baby in utero as long as possible, which is why early diagnosis is important. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms…
1. Vision problems
When you’re pregnant, dry eyes (especially if you wear contacts) are normal. Seeing spots or flashing lights, or experiencing a sudden change in vision (such as blurriness), are all possible signs of preeclampsia, says Dr. Agrawal.
2. Severe headache
Headaches, of course, are common during pregnancy (sinus congestion is often the cause), but severe headaches or headaches that won’t go away may signal preeclampsia.
3. Abdominal pain
Pregnancy can be full of aches and pains, but “pain in the upper abdomen or under the ribs can be a sign of preeclampsia,” says Dr. Agrawal.
4. Nausea and dizziness
Chances are, you’ll feel dizzy and queasy at some point while expecting (hello, morning sickness!) — but you want to pay special attention to those symptoms during the second half of your pregnancy.
5. Swelling in the face or hands
Your feet will probably swell during your pregnancy, but swelling in your face, around your eyes, and in your hands could be a sign of preeclampsia.
6. Sudden weight gain
It’s normal to gain weight when you’re expecting. However, if you notice that you’re gaining more than 2 pounds a week, even though your eating habits have stayed the same, you may have preeclampsia, says Dr. Raez.
Many pregnant women who are diagnosed with preeclampsia are put on bed rest and may have additional prenatal visits and tests. Oftentimes, the baby is delivered via C-section. But, in general, mom and baby are just fine after the delivery. Gueller delivered her son Miles via a C-section at 35 weeks. Although he spent several weeks in the NICU, he’s now a happy, healthy, 3-year-old.
More Health Content for Pregnant Moms:
- What Are the Signs of Placenta Previa & How Is it Treated?
- Secrets to Finding the Best Prenatal Vitamin for You & Your Baby
- 6 Crucial Questions Every Pregnant Woman Should Ask Her Ob-Gyn