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Everything You Need to Know About Preeclampsia

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

Preeclampsia is a complication involving high blood pressure in pregnant women. It usually shows up around 20 weeks of pregnancy. Traces of protein found in the pregnant mother’s urine at a doctor or midwife’s checkup can be a sign of preeclampsia, which happens as a result of stressed maternal organs, likely the kidneys or liver. Having regular prenatal check-ups is one of the best ways to catch this pregnancy condition as early as possible, to ensure the best treatment plan for both mother and baby.

There are natural solutions to help prevent preeclampsia in pregnant women, including lowering stress levels, eating healthy, and exercising. However, preeclampsia can be serious if it isn’t treated. Usually, the most effective treatment for severe preeclampsia is delivering the baby, but if a mother isn’t close to her due date, she and her doctor can find solutions to ease the symptoms of preeclampsia, while still allowing the baby to mature as fully as possible. In some cases, preeclampsia results in a baby being delivered early and having complications from premature birth. Severe preeclampsia can progress to “eclampsia” which can be fatal for both mother and baby if left untreated.

Is it common?

Preeclampsia is increasingly common in the United States, rising by 25% over the last two decades with no clear reason as to why. Preeclampsia is responsible for up to 500,000 infant deaths and 76,000 maternal deaths worldwide. The rate of preeclampsia in the US is 3-4 times higher than in other developed countries.


The condition affects 5-8 percent of pregnant women, but it has a tendency to affect Hispanic and African American women more than women of Asian or European ancestry. In rare situations, preeclampsia develops after the delivery of a baby. This condition is known as postpartum preeclampsia.

Can it be prevented?

There’s no way to entirely prevent preeclampsia, but there are many natural ways to reduce your chances of getting it. The number one way to prevent complications is to get regular prenatal healthcare so that your doctor or midwife can tell you if you are at risk.

Aside from regular doctor’s visits, prevention can actually start before you become pregnant. Consider making changes to your diet and exercise routines before or during pregnancy. Many of these tips overlap, for example, exercising naturally reduces stress, which leads to better sleep at night.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Prioritize maintaining a healthy weight, since women with higher BMI levels are more at risk for developing preeclampsia.


Drink water.

Drink at least 8-10 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.


Exercise.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, as long as your midwife or doctor approves.


Reduce stress.

Lowering the stress you feel will also lower your body’s inflammation and will lower your blood pressure. Try methods for regular relaxation such as meditation, yoga, soothing baths, essential oils like lavender, prenatal massage, acupuncture, or walking in nature.


Sleep more.

Getting enough sleep is good for numerous reasons, including helping your body’s hormones to stay balanced and lowering blood pressure.


Take vitamin D.

Absorb sunshine by spending time outside (make sure not to get sunburned) or take vitamin D via food or supplements. One study showed that not having enough vitamin D in a mother’s diet is associated with preeclamptic women. You can supplement your diet with vitamin D-rich foods like cod liver oil, egg yolks, grass-fed butter, sardines, or take a vitamin D supplement.


Take a prenatal vitamin.

Keep taking your prenatal vitamin regularly to ensure you are covering all your bases for your mineral and vitamin intake.


Eat bananas.

Consume bananas or folic acid supplements regularly. A new study shows that folic acid can help reduce the risk of preeclampsia.


Consume fiber-rich foods.

Fiber helps to lower blood pressure and even helps people with developed hypertension. Eat lots of fruit, vegetables, and grains for fiber.


Eat garlic.

Garlic helps lower blood pressure levels. You can eat garlic roasted or raw and add it to various meals. Garlic can also be taken in a supplement form found at your local grocer or pharmacy.


Consume beets.

Studies show that drinking beet juice actually lowered blood pressure levels quickly when consumed as a drink.

Who is at risk?

Pregnant women younger than 18 or older than 40

African American race

Hispanic race

Type 2 diabetes

Obesity

Chronic high blood pressure, kidney disease, or organ transplant

First pregnancy or previous history of preeclampsia

Family history of preeclampsia, for example, your mother or sister had it

Autoimmune disease, including lupus and multiple sclerosis

Sickle cell disease

In-vitro fertilization

Symptoms

High blood pressure, usually after 20 weeks of pregnancy

Decreased urine output

Signs of organ difficulty, such as kidney or liver malfunction

Traces of protein in the urine

Severe headaches

Nausea or vomiting

Vision changes, including blurry vision (“floaters”) or light sensitivity

Possible short term vision loss

Decreased platelet levels in the blood

Shortness of breath, caused by fluidity in lungs

Upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right side

Fluid retention

Swelling of face and hands

Heartburn

Rapid weight gain


Complications

Seizures

Stroke

Severe bleeding

Separation of the placenta from the uterus

Preterm delivery


Is it deadly?

Preeclampsia is actually the beginning of a more serious condition called eclampsia, which can be deadly. Eclampsia is characterized by seizures and clotting problems, which is why treatment of preeclampsia is so vital.

What are medical treatment options?

If preeclampsia is mild and occurs after 37 weeks of pregnancy, treatment may include:


Delivering the baby

Regular blood pressure and urine tests to monitor the progression of the condition

Magnesium sulfate treatments for the mother to prevent seizures

In more severe cases that occur earlier in the pregnancy, treatment might include:


Admitting the pregnant mother to the hospital for close monitoring

Medications for the baby’s lung development, to manage the mother’s blood pressure, and to prevent seizures

Delivering a baby at 34 weeks or preterm for safety reasons.

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