Symptoms of Preeclampsia

Many of the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia can be silent or pass of as 'normal' symptoms of pregnancy. This therefore is the most dangerous part of the condition. Since many women don't feel sick at all or fail to recognize the warning signs, preeclampsia is often referred to as a 'silent killer.'

The main signs of preeclampsia are:

  • High Blood Pressure: Hypertension is the main sign of preeclampsia. If your pressure is 140/90 or higher, it indicates that preeclampsia might be developing. While some women may realize this when their pressure is shooting up, others may remain oblivious until a medical check up. Keeping this in mind, it is important to visit your doctor for regular check-ups throughout your pregnancy. If you are in the high-risk category for preeclampsia, you will need to check your blood pressure more regularly.
  • Proteinuria: Refers to protein in your urine. This happens because preeclampsia damages the filters in the kidneys that prevent proteins from the blood entering the kidneys. A simple urine test will confirm the presence of protein in your urine and indicate that preeclampsia may be developing.
  • Edema: There is always some degree or swelling and water retention during pregnancy. Most women suffer from swollen ankles and feet. Resting adequately and elevating the feet to reduce the swelling can remedy this. However, when swelling does not respond to simple remedies, and is observed largely around the hands, eyes, and face, it is cause for concern.
  • Sudden Weight Gain: Experts say that weight gain of more than two pounds in a week can indicate the development of preeclampsia.
  • Nausea or Vomiting: Morning sickness and feeling of nausea generally disappear after the first trimester. If vomiting and nausea suddenly reappear in mid-pregnancy, this may be a sign that preeclampsia is setting in.
  • Stomach Pain and Shoulder Pain: This is a type of abdominal pain that is felt under the right side of the ribs. It may be confused with indigestion or flu or even attributed to the baby kicking. In addition, some women complain of a pain that radiates from the shoulder to the liver and the ribs. This pain is severe enough to prevent lying down on your side. These are serious symptoms that can indicate the development of HELLP syndrome associated with preeclampsia.
  • Lower Back Pain: No doubt lower back pain is a common complaint of pregnancy. However, if it is accompanied by any of the other symptoms of preeclampsia, it may indicate the development of a liver problem.
  • Changes in Vision: One of the most serious symptoms of preeclampsia. Sudden changes of vision require immediate medial attention as this can indicate a swelling in the brain. If you experience changes such as flashing lights, blurry vision, spots, or loss of vision, call your doctor immediately.
  • Headaches: Migraine-like headaches that continue for a long time and are severe and throbbing are cause for concern during pregnancy.
  • Hyperreflexia: This refers to extra strong reflexes that are tested when your knee is tapped by a rubber hammer. This is something only your doctor can check as part of your regular check up and not possible for you to observe yourself.

Other symptoms include feelings of confusion, anxiety, a sense of doom along with rapid pulse and shortness of breath. All these could indicate an increase in blood pressure or the development of a pulmonary edema.

Frequently asked questions
  1. Trends in Fetal and Infant Survival Following Preeclampsia, Olga Basso, Svein Rasmussen, Clarice R. Weinberg, Allen J. Wilcox, Lorentz M. Irgens, Rolv Skjaerven; JAMA. 2006;296(11):1357-1362.doi:10.1001/jama.296.11.1357
  2. Barrier Contraceptive Methods and Preeclampsia, James L. Mills, Mark A. Klebanoff, Barry I. I. Graubard, J. Christopher Carey, Heinz W. Berendes; JAMA. 1991;265(1):70-73.doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460010070033