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Preeclampsia Prevention and Management

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Updated July 27, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition in which pregnant women experience a sudden increase in blood pressure anytime after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The condition is also marked by high levels of protein in the urine. Women with preeclampsia may experience fluid retention as well.

Preeclampsia can harm the kidneys, liver, and brain and may lead to long-term health problems. It can be fatal for both mother and baby.

Signs of Preeclampsia

Women with preeclampsia often do not feel ill. However, they may experience these symptoms:

  • swelling of the hands, face, and/or eyes
  • weight gain of more than two pounds per week (or a sudden weight gain over one or two days)
  • dull, throbbing headaches that don't subside
  • blurred vision, light sensitivity, or temporary loss of vision
  • abdominal pain (usually felt on the right side, underneath the ribs)
  • pain in the right shoulder
  • agitation
  • decreased urine output
  • nausea and vomiting
  • What Causes It?

    Although the cause of preeclampsia is unknown, possible causes include autoimmune disorders, blood vessel problems, heredity, and poor diet.

    Preeclampsia may be more likely to affect women in their first pregnancy, women who are pregnant with more than one fetus, obese women, women older than 40 or younger than 18, and women with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease.

    Management of Preeclampsia

    Delivery of the baby is the only way to cure preeclampsia. However, if the fetus is not fully developed and the preeclampsia is mild, your doctor may recommend managing your condition with strategies such as bed rest and use of blood pressure medication.

    Since preeclampsia is potentially life-threatening for mother and baby, it's important to seek medical attention if you experience any preeclampsia symptoms, rather than attempt to self-treat the disease.

    How to Prevent Preeclampsia

    Taking low dose aspirin has been shown to be an effective preventive measure for women at high risk for developing preeclampsia. While no other methods have been proven to lower your risk, the following may help improve your overall health, which can improve your chances of avoiding preeclampsia:

    1) Stress Reduction

    Studies on the role of stress in the development of preeclampsia have yielded mixed results so far. However, some research suggests that stress may increase your risk for the condition.

    To lower your stress levels, consider taking up a daily stress management routine that includes practices such as prenatal yoga, meditation, tai chi, deep breathing, or guided imagery.

    2) Antioxidant Supplements

    In a 2003 study, researchers found that women with higher levels of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin had a decreased preeclampsia risk compared to those with low levels of these antioxidant vitamins.

    If you're considering taking supplements to increase your antioxidant levels, make sure to consult your physician first.

    Learn more about supplement safety.

    Sources:

    Harville EW, Savitz DA, Dole N, Herring AH, Thorp JM. "Stress questionnaires and stress biomarkers during pregnancy." J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2009 18(9):1425-33.

    Sikkema JM, Robles de Medina PG, Schaad RR, Mulder EJ, Bruinse HW, Buitelaar JK, Visser GH, Franx A. "Salivary cortisol levels and anxiety are not increased in women destined to develop preeclampsia." J Psychosom Res. 2001 50(1):45-9.

    Wergeland E, Strand K. "Work pace control and pregnancy health in a population-based sample of employed women in Norway." Scand J Work Environ Health. 1998 Jun;24(3):206-12.

    Williams MA, Woelk GB, King IB, Jenkins L, Mahomed K. "Plasma carotenoids, retinol, tocopherols, and lipoproteins in preeclamptic and normotensive pregnant Zimbabwean women." Am J Hypertens. 2003 16(8):665-72.

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