preeclampsia symptoms

Recognising preeclampsia symptoms is something that every woman should know how to do.

This very serious complication to pregnancy is known for causing high blood pressure and in more serious cases, damage of certain organ systems. Knowing what to look for is the best form of protection for you and your baby. Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms of preeclampsia.


What is preeclampsia?

This pregnancy condition, that causes high blood pressure and constitutes a risk for both mother and baby, is one of the most common, affecting almost 1 in 20 pregnancies, though it doesn’t usually appear before the 20th week. The majority of cases begin showing preeclampsia symptoms between week 24 and week 26. Fortunately, most cases are mild and not severe. But typically, the sooner the symptoms appear, the worse the case will be.

Women who are most susceptible to preeclampsia are those carrying their first child, those carrying twins or multiples, and those with diabetes.  


Early preeclampsia symptoms

It is very important to recognise preeclampsia symptoms as early as possible. The sooner you know about them, the more prepared you can be. Here are some of the first signs of preeclampsia that you might experience:

  • High blood pressure - This is usually the first sign that you or your doctor might notice. High blood pressure is a fairly common pregnancy symptom, but it usually develops gradually. However, with preeclampsia, it tends to spike suddenly.
  • Excess protein in urine – This is one of the first items that doctors and midwives check at the prenatal appointments. It’s not a symptom that you would feel or notice, but your doctor definitely will!


Later Preeclampsia symptoms

Farther along in the pregnancy, or if you didn’t catch the symptoms of preeclampsia earlier, you will most likely notice some changes. Some of the later preeclampsia symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision or the appearance of flashing lights
  • Very bad heartburn
  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Pain just below the ribs, especially on the right side
  • Fluid retention, leading to weight gain and swollen hands, feet, or face
  • Low platelet levels in the blood
  • Decreased urine secretion
  • Impairment of liver functions
  • Fluid in the lungs, sometimes leading to shortness of breath 

Ignoring the symptoms of preeclampsia can lead to life-threatening complications, including convulsions, liver malfunction, blood clotting disorder, and even a stroke.


Signs of preeclampsia in the baby 

In addition to signs of preeclampsia in the mother, there is an indication that the doctors can get from the foetus: Intra-uterine or foetal growth restriction. Essentially, this means that not enough blood is being supplied to the baby through the placenta, meaning that he is getting less nutrients and oxygen than he needs to grow properly. One of the things your doctor or midwife will check for at your antenatal appointments is that your little one is growing at a healthy rate.


Preeclampsia prognosis and treatment

Preeclampsia is a serious condition that can leave lasting organ damage, or even result in death of both you and your baby. You should never ignore preeclampsia symptoms, and be sure to notify your doctor right away if you notice any of them. The only real treatment is for the pregnancy to end, either by delivering the baby or terminating the pregnancy. It could end up in eclampsia, a condition even more serious and dangerous. If the onset of preeclampsia is late in the pregnancy, your doctor may advise you to have the baby early. However, if the baby hasn’t grown enough yet to survive, you and your doctor will need to weigh the risks of continuing with the pregnancy. You can read more about the prognosis and treatment options in our longer article devoted to preeclampsia.