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Signs of Preeclampsia Mothers Should Watch Out For

Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, MD · Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 02, 2021

Signs of Preeclampsia Mothers Should Watch Out For

Left ignored, the signs of preeclampsia may harm both the mother and her unborn baby. What causes preeclampsia and what symptoms should women watch out for?

Preeclampsia, defined

Preeclampsia is a part of the spectrum of pregnancy-related hypertensive disorders.

At the mild end of the spectrum is gestational hypertension, a condition where a woman who previously had normal blood pressure (normotensive) develops hypertension after the 20th week of her pregnancy. Blood pressure can be greater than or equal to 140/90 mmHg

Gestational hypertension usually doesn’t produce other symptoms aside from high blood pressure and, in most cases, doesn’t harm the mother or baby.

But in some cases, it may cause certain complications.

Preeclampsia is similar to gestational hypertension, in the sense that a previously normotensive woman develops high blood pressure at or after week 20 of her pregnancy.

However, it is more severe because it is accompanied by other clinical features not present in gestational hypertension.. Additionally, preeclampsia may affect the kidney and liver, leading to other symptoms like increased swelling (edema) and protein in the urine. When left untreated, the condition may harm both mother and child.

If preeclampsia symptoms become severe enough to harm the brain, cause seizures, or lead to coma, the mother now has a condition called eclampsia.

Causes of preeclampsia

According to experts, preeclampsia occurs due to problems in the placenta or “inunan,” the organ that links the mother’s blood supply to the baby’s blood supply.

During pregnancy, the unborn baby gets their oxygen and nourishment from their mother through the placenta; that’s why it’s necessary for the “inunan” to receive a large and constant blood supply.

In preeclampsia, the placenta doesn’t receive enough blood. This can be due to:

  • The placenta nor forming properly in the first half of the pregnancy
  • Problem in implantation
  • Some genetic factors
  • Inadequate blood circulation to the womb
  • A problem in the immune system
  • Damaged blood vessels

The problem in the placenta also affects the mother’s blood vessels, resulting in preeclampsia.

Signs of Preeclampsia

One reason why preeclampsia is dangerous is that sometimes, women do not feel anything unusual. In fact, some mothers only know about their condition during their regular prenatal check-ups, when the doctor checks their blood pressure and urine.

The first sign of preeclampsia is a rise in blood pressure. According to experts, a reading that exceeds 140/90 mmHg on two occasions, at least four hours apart, is not normal.

The other signs and symptoms of preeclampsia may include:

  • Lower back pain, which may indicate impaired kidney function
  • Upper abdominal pain, more on the right may be a sign of liver involvement
  • Severe headaches
  • Increased swelling; please note that some swelling is normal during pregnancy but generalized swelling around the eyes, in the face, hands, or legs may indicate preeclampsia.
  • Vision problems, such as sensitivity to bright light or blurring of vision
  • Sudden weight gain (more than 4 pounds of 1.8 kilos in a week) which may be due to water retention
  • Nausea or vomiting that comes backs midway through pregnancy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased urine output
  • Protein in the urine (proteinuria), which may indicate changes in kidney function
  • Decreased platelet levels

signs of preeclampsia

Dangers of preeclampsia

If preeclampsia signs remain untreated, it can lead to complications like preterm birth, fetal growth restriction, eclampsia, cardiovascular disease, and placenta abruption. In this condition, the placenta detaches prematurely before the baby’s delivery.

Uncontrolled preeclampsia can also result in HELLP syndrome, which means hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count. HELLP can be life-threatening for both mom and baby, and it also represents damage to other organs.

Please note that HELLP can be dangerously unpredictable. It may develop suddenly even before detecting a rise in the blood pressure, or it may occur without any symptom.

What can pregnant women do about preeclampsia?

Mothers-to-be must attend their prenatal check-ups, so their doctor can detect signs of preeclampsia, particularly high blood pressure.

Once diagnosed, the treatment will depend on several factors, like how severe your symptoms are, how far along you are, and your baby’s health. If possible, the doctor may recommend the early delivery of your baby, as it’s the most effective way to treat the condition.

If delivery is not yet indicated, the doctor will give you instructions on how often you’ll need to attend check-ups, monitor your BP, and undergo tests.

They may also give you some medications and order bedrest. In severe preeclampsia cases, the physician may also recommend hospitalization, so that you can be monitored more closely.

Learn more about Pregnancy Complications here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mary Rani Cadiz, MD

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jul 02, 2021

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