pregnancyPreeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that affects about 5% of pregnant women, or more than 200,000 cases per year in the U.S. When untreated, preeclampsia can lead to life-threatening complications for both you and your baby. The only cure is delivery of your baby.

What are Preeclampsia’s Symptoms?

The three main symptoms are high blood pressure, swelling in your hands and feet, and protein in the urine. As these can be difficult to detect on your own, make sure you attend your prenatal visits so that your care provider can monitor your blood pressure. Women may also experience severe headaches, nausea, decreased urine output, and changes in vision.

Does Preeclampsia have a Cure?

Preeclampsia’s only cure is delivery. High blood pressure increases your risk for seizures, stroke, severe bleeding and placental abruption. However, if it’s too early in your pregnancy, delivery may not be the best thing for your baby.

If you’re diagnosed with preeclampsia, your doctor will let you know how often you’ll need to come in for prenatal visits — likely more frequently than what’s typically recommended for pregnancy. You’ll also need ultrasounds and non-stress tests blood tests, often more frequently than would be expected in an uncomplicated pregnancy.

What are the Treatments for Preeclampsia?

Your doctor may give you medications to lower your blood pressure. Although there are many different types of medications available to lower blood pressure, many aren’t safe to use during pregnancy. Discuss with your doctor whether or not your situation needs an antihypertension medication to control your blood pressure.

In the past, bed rest used to be routinely recommended for women with preeclampsia. But research has shown that it may increase your risk of blood clots, as well as impact your economic and social lives. Today, for most women, bed rest is no longer recommended.

Severe preeclampsia may require that you be hospitalized. In the hospital, your doctor will monitor your baby’s well-being and measure the volume of amniotic fluid. A lack of amniotic fluid is a sign of poor blood supply to the baby.

Can I Prevent Preeclampsia?

Researchers continue to study ways to prevent preeclampsia, but unfortunately, the research hasn’t resulted in clear answers. The typical solutions to help with high blood pressure—reducing salt intake, exercise, restricting calories, or eating garlic and fish oil—doesn’t reduce your risk. Neither does consuming vitamins C and E, and research into vitamin D is ongoing.

Some women have reduced their risk of preeclampsia with aspirin and calcium supplements. However, it’s important that you don’t take any medications, vitamins or supplements without first talking to your doctor.

Before you become pregnant, especially if you’ve had preeclampsia before, it’s a good idea to be as healthy as you can be. Lose weight if you need to, and make sure other conditions, such as diabetes, are well-managed.

Once you’re pregnant, set up regular prenatal visits with your health care provider to take care of your and your baby’s health. When preeclampsia is detected early, you and your doctor have more options to make the best choices for you and your baby.