Aspirus Media Center

What to know about Preeclampsia

May is National Preeclampsia Awareness Month


David Merrill, MD, PhD, a Maternal & Fetal Medicine Physician

Preeclampsia is a serious health condition for pregnant women that usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In the United States, it affects between five to eight percent of pregnancies and in most cases leads to preterm birth or sometimes even fatal complications.

Preeclampsia is a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure. It affects the arteries carrying blood to the placenta. If the placenta doesn't get enough blood, the baby may receive inadequate blood and oxygen and fewer nutrients.

This condition is usually discovered through regular prenatal checkups and is exhibited by elevated blood pressure and/or protein in the urine. Other signs can be if the mother experiences swelling in the hands and face, weight gain of more than five pounds a week, nausea after mid pregnancy, changes in vision and difficulty breathing.

Once diagnosed, preeclampsia can stay mild for several weeks but must be closely monitored. However, it can also become severe very quickly, leading to a preterm delivery or other complications.

“Preeclampsia during pregnancy is mild in the majority of cases. However, a woman can go from mild to severe preeclampsia or to full eclampsia very quickly even in a matter of days. If that’s the case, we deliver the baby as soon as possible for the health of the mother and infant,” explained David Merrill, MD, PhD, a Maternal & Fetal Medicine Physician at Aspirus OB/Gyn Associates in Wausau. 

The cause of preeclampsia is unknown, though some women are more likely than others to develop it. Your risk of having preeclampsia is higher if you:

  • Are pregnant for the first time
  • Had chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease before pregnancy
  • Are older than 40 or younger than 18 years
  • Are pregnant with twins, triplets, or other multiples
  • Are obese
  • Are African American
  • Have an immune system disorder, such as lupus
  • Have had preeclampsia before

Occasionally, preeclampsia is diagnosed shortly after delivery in an otherwise uncomplicated pregnancy. In those cases, a doctor can prescribe medications to help lower blood pressure.

Always talk to your doctor about any concerns you have and changes you may be experiencing. Go to all scheduled prenatal visits so your doctor can check your blood pressure and screen for any other signs and symptoms of preeclampsia.

For more information or to find an Aspirus OB/Gyn provider near you, visit


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