7 Symptoms of Preeclampsia During Pregnancy

Women getting prenatal care
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Preeclampsia is a disease that can strike in the second half of pregnancy and in the first few weeks postpartum. It is more common in the latest part of pregnancy. In fact, the earlier you have symptoms of preeclampsia, the worse the outcomes tend to be for mom and baby. About 3% to 5% of pregnant women will experience preeclampsia. There are seven symptoms for you to watch for when it comes to preeclampsia.

Swelling in the Face or Hands

Any type of swelling that occurs in the face, especially around the eyes, or the hands can be cause for concern in pregnancy. While it is very normal to experience swelling in the feet, the rest of the body is a different story.

Weight Gain of More Than 5 Pounds in a Week

Certainly there are going to be weeks where you gain more than other weeks, but in general, the weight gain in pregnancy is slow and steady. If you find that you have a rapid increase in weight, with no explanation, you will want to contact your doctor or midwife right away.

A Headache That Won’t Go Away

Certainly, some pregnant people have headaches in pregnancy, some more frequently than others. But if you have a headache that does not respond to treatment, including medications, call your provider for more advice.

Seeing Stars While Pregnant

If you see stars or spots in your field of vision in pregnancy, it is time to call someone. These dark spots are known as scotomata and unlike floaters that can move across your field of vision they typically remain in one area of your vision. Scotomata can be a sign of preeclampsia or eclampsia and are a symptom that should not be overlooked.

Sudden Nausea and Vomiting

This is not your typical morning sickness feeling, which sometimes may come back towards the end of pregnancy. For most pregnant people, this happens really rapidly. Not sure which it is for you? Call and ask the nurse or assistant in your practice for advice.

Upper Belly Pain

This is not something that you can usually blame on much else. It’s pretty obviously not heartburn, and can’t really be where the baby is kicking you. You know the drill: Call your practitioner.

Difficulty Breathing

This can include gasping, being short of breath, etc. This can be a very frightening symptom. Be careful not to assign it to something like being out of shape or blame it on the belly.

When in doubt, talk it out—call your practitioner. You don’t have to have all seven of these symptoms in order to have preeclampsia. Some people will have no symptoms.

Why Prenatal Care Matters

This is why your prenatal care is so important. Every visit, your midwife or doctor will screen you for these symptoms, and others. Two things that they will do at every prenatal visit are to check your blood pressure and to check your urine for protein. These two symptoms are ones that are not easy for you to screen at home. 

Most people will see a slight decline in their blood pressure over most of the pregnancy. Often there can be a return to baseline at full term. There is a specific cut-off for blood pressure that is considered elevated: Greater than 140 systolic blood pressure and/or greater than 90 diastolic blood pressure, regardless of baseline blood pressures. 

If You Have Preeclampsia

If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia, you and your baby will be monitored more closely. Typically you will have your baby early through a medically indicated induction of labor. When this happens, it will depend on your length of gestation and your symptoms. The goal is to keep you pregnant as long as safely possible, though it is possible that you will have an induction prior to term if your symptoms warrant it.

Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, stroke, seizures, and the death of the mother and/or the baby. This is a very serious illness. In fact, we now know that there can be long-term health consequences for the gestational parent. It is a long term risk factor for stroke, thyroid disease, the development of diabetes, and heart disease. So be sure to tell all care providers that you had preeclampsia, even if it was mild and didn’t have a traumatic outcome.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.