Preeclampsia: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Preeclampsia occurs during pregnancy and postpartum and has affects on the mom and the baby. Preeclampsia mainly involves hypertension and protein in urine due to kidney problems. Preeclampsia occurs after 20 weeks of gestation mostly and can be present until 7 days after delivery. In some cases it may occur even earlier.

Effects on Mom and baby

In most women preeclampsia occurs towards the end of pregnancy and that too mild version. In such cases everything can be fine with proper care.

But in severe cases preeclampsia can occur earlier and can be of risk for both mom and baby. Preeclampsia can lead to high blood pressure and reduced blood flow as it causes the blood vessels to constrict. This can affect several organs like liver, kidney and brain and can be life threatening. If conditions get worse woman may need to deliver early.

If the blood flow to the uterus reduces, it can lead to poor growth of the baby, less amniotic fluid or placental abruption (separation of placenta from the uterine wall). These can be problematic for the baby.

Signs and Symptoms

Many of the symptoms of preeclampsia are silent while some are very similar to normal effects of pregnancy on a woman’s body. Some of the signs and symptoms which you should track and let your doctor know are :

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Protein in Urine
  • Edema – Edema is accumulation of excess fluid. It is o concern if when it appears in the hands, face and around the eyes, or excessive or sudden swelling in the feet and ankle.
  • Sudden Weight Gain – Within a week if a woman gains more than 1kg then it is a warning signal.
  • Severe or persistent headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in vision – It may be blurred vision, light sensitivity, double vision in even temporary loss of vision.
  • Abdominal Pain – Pain in the upper quadrant usually on the right side under the ribs.

While symptoms may vary from woman to woman many a time preeclampsia may occur without any visible symptom especially in the early stage. Some of the symptoms like edema and weight gain are normal pregnancy complaints so the condition of preeclampsia may not be found until it will be discovered in a prenatal test.


A woman who has high blood pressure and protein in urine is used to diagnose preeclampsia. Usually more than one reading of blood pressure is required to confirm consistent high blood pressure. Protein in urine can fluctuate during the day and to confirm a condition it needs to be checked 24 hrs.


The true cause of preeclampsia is still unknown still based on the researches of the last decade it is believed that the start is related to placenta which results in overt maternal disease (high blood pressure, kidney, liver and coagulation abnormalities).

The reduction in the blood flowing to the placenta is the root cause. Reduced blood flow to placenta can be due to improper implant of placenta in the lining of the uterus or chronic hypertension or diabetes. And this reduced blood can lead to release of high level of placental protein in the bloodstream. This can cause constricted blood vessels (leading to high blood pressure), damage to the vessel walls (leading to swelling and protein in your urine), reduced blood volume, and changes in blood clotting, leading to many other problems.

Who are at high risk to get Preeclampsia?

If one has high blood pressure before pregnancy or during the early stages of pregnancy then she is at high risk of developing preeclampsia.

Once a woman has had preeclampsia during pregnancy she is more likely to develop preeclampsia during the later pregnancies. If one had sever preeclampsia the chances of getting it again is very high upto 40%.

Some other things that puts one at higher risk of getting preeclampsia are:

  • Having Diabetes, Kidney disorder or blood clotting disorder.
  • If someone in family has had preeclampsia.
  • If one is Obese.
  • Multiple pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy at 40 years plus.
  • Pregnancy before 20 years.


There is no proven way to prevent preeclampsia. Most women who develop signs of preeclampsia, however, are closely monitored to lessen or avoid related problems. The way to "cure" preeclampsia is to deliver the baby.