Preeclampsia is a serious condition that can impact both a pregnant woman and her fetus. It usually occurs after week 20 of a woman’s pregnancy. There’s no single test that doctors can perform to determine if a woman has preeclampsia, so it’s critical that women know its common signs and symptoms.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is often the first sign of preeclampsia, but it’s almost impossible to know when blood pressure has increased if you aren’t tracking it yourself. Pregnant women must get their blood pressure checked routinely to ensure it isn’t elevated.
Excess protein in urine
This is something that your healthcare provider will be testing for at each prenatal visit. Protein in your urine can be a sign of preeclampsia. Along with hypertension and symptoms, protein in the urine is considered a major signal of preeclampsia that healthcare providers look for.
If protein is detected in your urine dipstick screening test, you may be asked to collect all of your urine in a jug for 12 or 24 hours to determine the amount of protein being lost. This urine will be tested to see if you are passing more than 300 mg of protein in a day. Any amount of protein in your urine over 300 mg in one day may indicate preeclampsia.
Alternatively, your provider may do a “spot check” to immediately check levels of protein compared to creatinine, also an indicator of kidney health. A protein:creatinine ratio over .3 mg/dl is roughly the equivalent of 300 mg of proteinuria (or more) over 24 hours.
Headaches occurring in the third trimester that are persistent and do not improve with over-the-counter medications, especially headaches that are different from your usual headaches inside or outside of pregnancy, or are the worst headache of your life, are worth calling your healthcare provider about. These headaches could be a sign of preeclampsia.
Women who are experiencing persistent pain in the upper right portion of their abdomen in the third trimester should call their healthcare provider.
A new onset of spots in your vision can sometimes be a symptom of preeclampsia and requires a call to a healthcare provider.
It is extremely difficult for healthcare providers to know which women will and won’t suffer from preeclampsia. Because the condition is often unpredictable and varying in severity, pregnant women should do as much as they can to know the warning signs of preeclampsia, trust their instincts, and feel confident speaking to their healthcare providers about any potential concerns.
- Preeclampsia Foundation. Last updated on November 16, 2021 https://www.preeclampsia.org/faqs
- “FAQs.” Preeclampsia Foundation. Preeclampsia Foundation. https://www.preeclampsia.org/faqs.
- “Preeclampsia and Hypertension in Pregnancy: Resource Overview.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2017. Web.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Preeclampsia: Symptoms.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jul 3 2014. Web.
- “Signs & Symptoms.” Preeclampsia. Preeclampsia Foundation, Mar 29 2016. Web.