Preeclampsia Awareness: What The Preeclampsia Foundation Wants Every Pregnant Woman To Know

  • 1
  • January 30, 2015

Preeclampsia Awareness: What The Preeclampsia Foundation Wants Every Pregnant Woman To Know

For expectant and new parents, it’s the unexpected that can quickly change the course of normal pregnancies. That’s why the Preeclampsia Foundation is dedicated to providing education about this life-threatening disorder of pregnancy. The more a pregnant woman knows about preeclampsia, the more likely she is to recognize and report symptoms to her doctor or midwife. That improves time to diagnosis and medical evaluation, which saves lives – for both mothers and babies. And that’s why we’re so focused on improving awareness of preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy remain a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. Globally, by conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths every year. In the United States, preeclampsia affects one of every 12 pregnancies, and its incidence has increased by 25 percent over the past two decades.

Know the Symptoms. Spread the Word.

Early recognition and reporting of symptoms is the key to timely detection and management of preeclampsia.  Women who are pregnant or recently delivered should contact their doctor or midwife right away if they experience any of the symptoms listed below.  While these symptoms don’t necessarily indicate preeclampsia, they are cause for concern and require immediate medical

  • Swelling of the hands and face, especially around the eyes (swelling of the feet is more common
  • in late pregnancy and probably not a sign of preeclampsia)
  • Weight gain of more than five pounds in a week
  • Headache that won’t go away, even after taking medication for pain relief
  • Changes in vision like seeing spots or flashing lights; partial or total loss of eyesight
  • Nausea or throwing up, especially suddenly, after mid pregnancy (not the morning sickness that
  • many women experience in early pregnancy)
  • Upper right belly pain, sometimes mistaken for indigestion or the flu
  • Difficulty breathing, gasping, or panting

It’s also important to know that some women with preeclampsia have NO symptoms or they “just don’t feel right.” If you have a sense that something’s wrong, even without symptoms, trust yourself and contact your healthcare provider immediately. Preeclampsia can only be diagnosed by monitoring blood pressure and protein in the urine, which is routinely done at prenatal appointments, so keeping all appointments is vital throughout pregnancy and immediately after delivery.

Preeclampsia FAQs

What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a serious disorder related to high blood pressure.  It can happen to any pregnant
woman during the second half of her pregnancy, or up to six weeks after delivery.

How is preeclampsia diagnosed?
Preeclampsia is diagnosed by the presence of high blood pressure and, usually, protein in the urine.
This is why the mother’s blood pressure and urine are checked at every prenatal appointment.

Who is at risk for preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia affects as many as one in every 12 pregnancies, including pregnant women who have no
risk factors.  These factors increase the risk of developing preeclampsia:

  • First pregnancy
  • Preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
  • Kidney disease
  • Over 40 or under 18 years of age
  • High blood pressure before pregnancy
  • Diabetes before or during pregnancy
  • Multiple gestations (e.g., twins, triplets)
  • Obesity (BMI>30)
  • Lupus or other autoimmune disorders
  • Some blood clotting disorders
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • In vitro fertilization
  • Sickle cell disease

What causes preeclampsia and can it be prevented? 
The cause of preeclampsia remains unknown and there is no sure way to prevent it.  Several
prevention strategies have been tested, but none have proven to be successful for all women.  Low
dose aspirin may help some women at high risk.  Calcium has been studied and may be helpful in
certain populations, but the results do not support widespread adoption in the U.S.  Bed rest has not
been found to prevent or treat preeclampsia.  Exercise may be beneficial, particularly if started before
pregnancy, to improve heart health and maintain a healthy weight.

What are the possible consequences of preeclampsia?
Most cases are not severe and occur near term with healthy outcomes.  Preeclampsia can, however, be
very dangerous for mother and baby, progressing quite rapidly in some cases.  Risks to mom include
seizures, stroke, and organ damage, and premature birth for baby.  Both mom and baby could die.

Can I have preeclampsia without symptoms?
Yes, it’s important to know that some women with preeclampsia have NO symptoms or they “just
don’t feel right.” If you have a sense that something’s wrong, even without symptoms, trust yourself
and contact your healthcare provider immediately.
What should I do if I experience symptoms or just don’t feel right?

Preeclampsia awareness saves the lives of moms and babies.  Watch and share this video so all expectant and new mothers have the information they need for healthy pregnancies:

El vídeo también está disponible en español :


Call your doctor or midwife right away.  Finding preeclampsia early is important for you and your baby.

Eleni Z. Tsigas is the Executive Director of the Preeclampsia Foundation. Prior to this position,  she served in a variety of volunteer capacities for the organization, including six years on the  Board of Directors, two as its chairman. Working with dedicated volunteers, board members  and professional staff, Eleni has helped lead the Foundation to its current position as a  sustainable, mission-driven, results-oriented organization.

As a preeclampsia survivor herself, Eleni is a relentless champion for the improvement of  patient and provider education and practices, for the catalytic role that patients can have to  advance the science and status of maternal-infant health, and for the progress that can be  realized by building global partnerships to improve patient outcomes.

She has served as a technical advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) and participated  in the Hypertension in Pregnancy Task Force created by the American College of Obstetricians  and Gynecologists to develop the national guidelines introduced in 2013, as well as a similar  task force for the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC). Eleni also serves on  the National Partnership for Maternal Safety initiative, the Patient Advisory Board of IMPROvED
(IMproved PRegnancy Outcomes via Early Detection), Ireland, and the Technical Advisory Group  and Knowledge Translation Committee for PRE-EMPT (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates  Foundation). Eleni is frequently engaged as an expert representing the consumer perspective  on preeclampsia at national and international meetings, and has been honored to deliver keynote addresses for several professional healthcare providers’ societies.

Eleni has collaborated in numerous research studies, has authored invited chapters and papers  in peer-reviewed journals, and is the Principal Investigator for The Preeclampsia Registry.

A veteran of public relations, she has secured media coverage about preeclampsia in national  consumer magazines, as well as newspapers, radio and online. Eleni previously spent 8 years executing and managing strategic communications and public relations for technology and  biotech companies with Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and for 6 years prior in the television  industry.

*Photo by Trocaire 

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