Who is most at risk?
We see preeclampsia more commonly among younger pregnant patients, for example in teen pregnancies, and in patients who become pregnant after 40 years old. Preeclampsia can occur more often in a first pregnancy or if the patient had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy or is carrying multiples (twins, triplets).
Other risk factors include chronic health conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease.
Black and Latina women also are disproportionately affected by preeclampsia. Unfortunately, we don’t know if that’s related to a genetic predisposition, underlying medical issues, or poor access to care. The reasons are still unclear.
When does preeclampsia occur?
Preeclampsia usually occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy—in the second or third trimester. It can also occur in the days or weeks after childbirth, though that’s less common.
How is it treated?
As soon as preeclampsia is diagnosed, mom and baby are very closely monitored. Once preeclampsia occurs, it cannot be reversed. The only real “cure” is to deliver the baby and placenta as safely as possible. Certain medications to reduce blood pressure may help prolong a pregnancy, but in some cases the baby must be delivered immediately to save either the mom’s or baby’s life.
For severe cases, mothers are often kept in the hospital so they can be monitored. They may receive an IV medicine called magnesium sulfate to reduce the risk of stroke and seizure.
Can it cause future health problems?
People with preeclampsia are at higher risk of getting heart disease, chronic high blood pressure, and stroke later in life.
Can preeclampsia be prevented?
While we don’t have a way to prevent preeclampsia yet, taking a low-dose aspirin once a day during pregnancy may reduce the risk of preeclampsia for those who are high-risk; ask your doctor.
The best way to reduce the risk of preeclampsia is to manage health conditions you can control. Before becoming pregnant, people should work with their doctors to modify their diets to lose weight if needed and help get their blood pressure or diabetes under control.
“You want to have the healthiest lifestyle before and during pregnancy,” Dr. Booker says.