What Is Preeclampsia?

pregnant woman belly
Image via seanmgrath/Flickr

Preeclampsia seems to be one of those medical terms that is casually thrown around during pregnancy. As in, “Oh, that’s Jenny and she had preeclampsia.” Or, “Oh, yeah, Sarah needed a c-section right away because she was developing preeclampsia.”

It’s slightly commonplace in the world of pregnancy, but the truth is, preeclampsia is not a casual condition.

It’s one that can be life-threatening—for both you and your baby.

Preeclampsia begins with a different type of condition during pregnancy—high blood pressure. Some women, for reasons not quite understood, develop higher-than-normal-levels of blood pressure when they are pregnant, even if they have completely normal blood pressure when they’re not pregnant.

The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) defines high blood pressure during pregnancy (called “gestational hypertension”) as anything higher than 140/90 for either number.

Now, the high blood pressure in itself, while not exactly a great thing to have during pregnancy, is not the problem. High blood pressure during pregnancy without any symptoms doesn’t really warrant any immediate treatment. Your doctor will most likely simply continue to very closely monitor you and the baby.

The problem with high blood pressure during pregnancy is when it starts to take a toll on your body and you develop other symptoms alongside of the high blood pressure, like protein spilling over into your blood, extreme swelling, and problems with your blood’s clotting abilities. Those kind of symptoms, combined with high blood pressure during pregnancy, are what make up the condition known as preeclampsia. The ACOG estimates that nearly ¼ of women with gestational hypertension will go on to develop preeclampsia.

The danger with preeclampsia is that in quickly develop into the next stages of the condition, eclampsia (causes grand mal seizures) and something called HELLP syndrome, in which a woman basically risks literally bleeding to death. Both conditions are extremely dangerous and life-threatening.

Because preeclampsia can be so dangerous, treatment is handled on an individual basis based on the severity; optimally, a woman with preeclampsia will be able to be delivered as quickly as possible before any major complications occur. If the baby is premature, however, a healthcare team will assemble to decide the best course of treatment.


Finally, even after delivery it is a good idea to speak with your doctor about your blood pressure and continue monitoring until everything is back to normal levels. Rarely, some women experience postpartum preeclampsia even up to 6 weeks after giving birth, so don't be afraid to ask questions if things don't feel right. 

Did you have preeclampsia with any of your pregnancies? 

{Related: Additional Information on Preeclampsia }



What do you think?

What Is Preeclampsia?

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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  1. Steph says:

    I had preeclampsia with both of my pregnancies. With my first son it developed late (about 35 weeks) and progressed rapidly. I delivered my son at 37 weeks and progressed in to eclampsia after birth (my doctor explained this was rare, delivery generally relieves preeclampsia ). I was in the hospital for over a week after delivery. They put me on IV magnesium to bring my pressure down (it peaked at 220/110). They put me out for two days to allow my body to heal and prevent further complications (stroke or HELLP). It was very scary! Needless to say I was watched extremely closely and when I developed it again with my second son (with whom I also had placenta previa) a c-section was scheduled for 37 weeks, but he decided to try to come on his own at 36 weeks, so I had an emergency c-section.

  2. Gma_Butta says:

    My daughter is 36 weeks pregnant with high blood pressure & swelling. Her doctor has placed her on bed rest laying only on her left side. At her appointment yesterday her blood pressure was 133/94 so the doctor put her on blood pressure medicine 4 times a day. Is it common to take blood pressure medicine during pregnancy? She has every symptom of preeclampsia, but It seems to me that her doctor is taking her condition quite lightly, while I am seriously worried.

  3. Kim says:

    Yes, I had it. I was being monitored anyway because of my advanced maternal age (41, big deal!). Suddenly in week 32, my blood pressure started to rise and the protein in my urine spiked. I was on bed rest for over one week at home, but it kept getting worse. I was admitted to the hospital, had my blood pressure medication doubled, but it still did not improve. I’ll never forget one night telling a nurse how bad my heartburn was and she said “oh honey, that’s your organs shutting down”. The next morning, at 34 weeks, I had an emergency c-section. More than one doctor said that the first thing they teach you in med-school is that the cure for pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby! My baby was in the Special Care Nursery after he was born and I did not get to see him for 36 hours. That is how long it took for my blood pressure to stabilize after he was delivered. The nurse told me that if I got out of bed then I may have a seizure. After 13 days we were able to take our son home and everything was fine. My message to all pregnant women is that Pre-eclampsia is very, very serious. If you start to develop ANY symptoms, do not dismiss them, get checked out right away! I had an explanation for everything… My feet are swollen, must be because it’s hot outside. My blood pressure is high, must be because of the cold medicine for my stuffy nose. Take it seriously!

  4. Shana says:

    Great information.

  5. Alicia says:

    Yes, I had it. I had 40 extra pounds of fluid when it was all said and done, mostly in my legs and feet. It was SO uncomfortable and hard to get around. My blood pressure was stupid high. It had never been high during the rest of the pregnancy, so we knew something was up. I was seeing spots in my vision, and felt dizzy. I went on bed rest for a week, then delivered (induced) at 37 weeks. So technically my baby was “full term” and I was so grateful. Healthy baby! And I lost the water weight within weeks. I hope to NOT get this condition with baby #2. Praying that I won’t!

  6. Phammom says:

    Thankful I haven’t gotten it hope I don’t.


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