Planning a Pregnancy? Make Sure Lowering Risk for Preeclampsia Is at the Top of Your List.

From finances and maternity leave to finding an obstetrician and scheduling appointments to buying a car seat and deciding where to put the baby’s crib, a ton goes into planning for pregnancy and the arrival of your “bundle of joy.” Unfortunately, whether she’s trying to get pregnant or intends to have a child in the future, not every woman includes lowering her risk of preeclampsia in her pre-pregnancy plans. Here is some important information, as well as ways to decrease your risk factors for developing preeclampsia and obtain better health before you become pregnant.

The Preeclampsia Foundation reports that nearly 76,000 mothers and 500,000 babies worldwide lose their lives to preeclampsia and related high-blood-pressure disorders every year. In the U.S., preeclampsia impacts approximately one in every 25 pregnancies. This makes it a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death.

Preeclampsia is usually diagnosed by continued high or elevated blood pressure in a woman who is pregnant, as well as by changes in her bloodwork and urine tests. If the pregnant woman reports a headache or a sensation like “heartburn” that doesn’t go away, blurred vision, or pain on the right side of her upper abdomen, it should be reported to her doctor right away. As preeclampsia worsens, the woman’s high blood pressure can restrict the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the unborn baby, which could put her health and the baby’s health at risk. This could also increase the risk for a number of health issues — including brain injury, liver and kidney trouble, fluid buildup in the lungs, and seizures. And if any of these issues becomes severe, it can lead to the death of the mother and/or her baby. However, partnering with a health care provider can decrease the risks and help manage the condition. If it’s still early in the pregnancy — the benchmark being less than 37 weeks of pregnancy — health care providers may try ways to help control the mother’s blood pressure and “buy some time” for the infant to grow before being delivered. Options may include blood pressure medications and keeping a close eye on blood-test results. Once the pregnancy is further along, often the treatment is to deliver the baby.

If you’re planning on getting pregnant, you can do a lot right now to lower your risk of preeclampsia and the physical harm it could cause you and your infant. Moreover, the sooner you start practicing healthy behaviors to control your blood pressure, the better off you’ll be — for your pregnancy and even the rest of your life. It’s also important to keep up good blood pressure control before, during, and after pregnancy, since preeclampsia can occur up to a few weeks after giving birth. From the moment you decide you’d like to be a mother, talk with your health care provider about the possibility of preeclampsia, assess your risk, and outline steps you can take. Risk factors include:

  • First pregnancy, or having preeclampsia during another pregnancy
  • Long-term high blood pressure, kidney disease, or both
  • Multiple-baby pregnancy (such as twins or triplets)
  • Becoming pregnant by in vitro fertilization
  • High risk of blot clots
  • Family history of preeclampsia
  • Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, obesity, or lupus or another autoimmune disorder
  • Being over age 35 or under age 20

Even if you do not have risk factors, be vigilant — 5% to 8% of preeclampsia cases occur in women without known risk factors. Once you become pregnant, it is extremely important to keep all your health appointments. And remember, even though having symptoms of preeclampsia does not necessarily mean you have the condition, symptoms should always be discussed with your health care provider. Regular visits to your health care provider may help detect problems before they put you and your baby at risk.

Lastly, remember that there’s a lot you can do to help maintain control! While you should always follow your health care provider’s guidelines for diet and exercise, the American Pregnancy Association suggests doing the following to help control your blood pressure:

  1. Exercise regularly.
  2. Eat healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, and limit the amount of salt you add to your meals.
  3. Drink six to eight glasses of water a day and avoid drinking alcohol. Limit your caffeine intake and avoid fried foods and junk foods.
  4. Get enough rest and elevate your feet several times during the day.
  5. Take your prenatal vitamins as prescribed.
  6. Talk to your provider if you follow a certain diet, like being a vegetarian.

If you are or plan on becoming pregnant, or love someone who is, learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about preeclampsia, its risk factors and symptoms, and steps you or your loved one can take to help ensure a healthier start of life together for mother and baby. In addition, remember that preeclampsia is not the only potential concern for mothers-to-be — so be sure you are familiar of other urgent maternal warning signs that may indicate complications during pregnancy.