Preeclampsia is pregnancy-induced hypertension or high blood pressure. Women with chronic hypertension who become pregnant should discuss how to monitor high blood pressure with their doctor early in their pregnancy. For some women with chronic hypertension, pregnancy can further elevate blood pressure. However, even women without chronic hypertension can develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. High blood pressure is serious because it can restrict blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the baby.
Preeclampsia usually occurs late in pregnancy, after Week 20, and can be serious for both the mother-to-be and her baby. Up to 30% of women experience some elevation in blood pressure during pregnancy. For 6% to 8% of women, particularly in first pregnancies, this develops into preeclampsia.1
Possible signs of preeclampsia include:
- High blood pressure
- Too much protein in the urine (caused by stress on the kidneys)
- Edema (or swelling) in the face and hands
- Sudden rapid weight gain
- Headaches, blurred vision, and abdominal pain
Who is at risk for preeclampsia?
While research has not been able to pinpoint what causes preeclampsia, it has been linked to several factors, including dietary choices and excess weight gain during pregnancy. The risk increases for women who:
- Are pregnant for the first time
- Had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- Have a history of high blood pressure
- Are 35 or older
- Are carrying more than one baby
- Have a mother or sister who experienced pregnancy-induced hypertension
- Are significantly overweight
- Have other medical conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease
The best approach to preeclampsia during pregnancy:
Here are some good tips to follow before and during your pregnancy2:
- Enter pregnancy at a healthy weight
- Follow weight guideline recommendations during pregnancy
- Take a daily prenatal multivitamin and mineral prescribed by your doctor
- Eat a balanced diet providing all the nutrients needed including calcium, vitamins C and E, and healthy fats including DHA
A balanced diet full of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and the basic food groups is important in any pregnancy, but particularly if you are at risk for preeclampsia. Daily Food Plan for Moms offers a nutrient-rich eating plan, but you always should consult your doctor about your specific nutritional needs.
While no proven preventions for preeclampsia exist, nutrient-dense diets with moderate sodium intake during pregnancy have been shown to be beneficial. Please note: Always consult your doctor if you suspect that you have preeclampsia.
Regular visits with your doctor will help detect any areas of concern so, if needed, you can get treatment early on to significantly increase your chances of a successful outcome.
2Expect the Best. Elizabeth Ward, 2009, The American Dietetics Association, J Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ.
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