Am I more likely to develop preeclampsia?

Pregnant woman measuring blood pressure with an electronic pressure gauge

Preeclampsia — hypertension that develops in pregnancy — affects up to 8% of pregnancies worldwide, and it is one of the major reasons why doctors have to deliver babies early in order to protect the health of the mom or baby.

Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or after giving birth (called postpartum preeclampsia).

It is the most common cause of maternal death in the U.S. and can affect all the organs in your body. Most women with preeclampsia have healthy babies, but if it’s not treated, it can cause severe health problems for you and your baby.

Watch Dr. Kristen Lady discuss the causes, prevention, and management of preeclampsia.

Currently, it is believed that women at high risk for preeclampsia may benefit from taking 81mg of aspirin daily, provided they start doing so before 16 weeks.

High Risk: if you have one of these risk factors, ask your doctor if you should take aspirin to try to reduce your chances for preeclampsia.

  • You’ve had preeclampsia before, particularly if your blood pressure rose before 37 weeks or your baby suffered from poor growth (3X increased risk)
  • You have Type 1 or 2 Diabetes (4X increased risk)
  • You had high Blood Pressure before pregnancy (5X increased risk)
  • You have an auto-immune disease like Lupus or antiphospholipid syndrome
  • You are carrying more than one baby (3X increased risk)
  • You have kidney disease

Medium Risk: if you have two of these conditions, ask your doctor if you should take aspirin to try to reduce your chances for preeclampsia.

  • You had a problem in a previous pregnancy with poor growth or a low birth weight baby
  • It’s been more than 10 years since your last pregnancy
  • Your Body Mass Index is >30 (in the obese range) (5X increased risk)
  • It’s your first baby. (2X increased risk)
  • You are of African descent
  • Age >35 years
  • You have a mother or sister whose pregnancy was affected by preeclampsia

If you fit any one of the criteria in the high-risk category or two of the criteria in the second category, you are at increased risk for preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia does not occur prior to the 20th week of pregnancy (as a rule). If you develop high blood pressure before 20 weeks, you are probably an undiagnosed hypertensive.

What to watch for:

  • If you have normal blood pressure (BP)and you then develop a BP where the top number (systolic) is 140 or greater, or the bottom number (diastolic) is 90 or greater, on two occasions, 4 hours apart, Call your doctor.
  • If your BP exceeds 160/110 (either number) even once, call your doctor
  • If you experience
    • shortness of breath
    • upper abdominal pain
    • severe headaches
    • nausea or vomiting (not explained by other causes)
    • changes in vision
    • sudden weight gain and swelling

Future Considerations:

Pregnancy is a stress test on your body. Women who develop preeclampsia are more likely to develop high blood pressure later on in life and have a great chance of suffering from heart attacks or strokes.

If you develop preeclampsia with your pregnancy, treat it as a message to your future self.  It is telling you to follow a heart-healthy diet, avoid becoming overweight or obese, and exercise to improve your heart function.

If you don’t already have a blood pressure cuff, please consider purchasing one so that you too can monitor your blood pressure.

Please talk to your provider if you have concerns about preeclampsia.

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