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According to the CDC, 1 in 25 pregnancies in the United States involves preeclampsia. Also known as toxemia, this condition is when high blood pressure (hypertension) and signs of organ damage occur during pregnancy. This condition usually develops around the 20-week mark (second trimester), although it can also occur after childbirth, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a serious condition that requires medical attention. Left untreated, it can lead to complications that include seizures (eclampsia) as well as parental and fetal death in rare cases. As such, knowing the signs of this condition—so expectant parents know when to seek help—is vital for the health of both the parent and fetus. Signs of this condition include the following…

13. High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

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Hypertension is the hallmark sign of preeclampsia. Regular blood pressure (BP) readings can help detect whether or not someone has this condition.

What is hypertension?

BP refers to how hard blood pushes against blood vessels. High blood pressure (HBP) means that the heart has to work harder than normal to function properly. This overexertion can lead to negative health effects throughout the body.

Hypertension typically has no noticeable symptoms. So, it’s important to know other signs of toxemia…

12. Shortness of Breath & a Racing Heart

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After physical activity, it’s normal to feel a little out of breath (and exercise during pregnancy is important for parental and fetal health). However, those who notice that they are out of breath and have a racing heart, even when they have not exercised, may have preeclampsia.

Why does this symptom occur?

HBP can result in both rapid heart rate (tachycardia) and shortness of breath. In rare cases, pulmonary edema may be to blame for these symptoms. Pulmonary edema is a dangerous condition in which fluid fills the lungs. Experts estimate that 0.6% to 5% of people who have preeclampsia/eclampsia go on to develop this condition. Either way, these symptoms warrant medical attention right away, as do the following…

11. Blurry Vision

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Anyone experiencing blurry vision during or after pregnancy should contact their medical provider right away, as can indicate a severe case of preeclampsia.

How common is this symptom?

According to experts, roughly 1 in 4 severe preeclampsia patients experience vision problems. Those with eclampsia (seizures; severe complication of preeclampsia) have a 1 in 2 chance of developing visual symptoms.

Blurring vision isn’t the only way that preeclampsia affects vision, either…

10. Sensitivity to Light (Photophobia)

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Increased sensitivity to light is medically known as photophobia. Like blurry vision, it is another sign of severe preeclampsia or even eclampsia.

What other visual symptoms can occur?

Along with photophobia, patients may also experience vision changes like seeing flashes of light (photopsia) and partial or complete blindness.

The following sign of preeclampsia is easy enough for anyone to see…

9. Bruising

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Some people with preeclampsia may notice that they bruise more easily. So, anyone who’s pregnant should keep an eye out for purple spots and bruising.

Why does preeclampsia cause bruising?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, preeclampsia causes easier bruising due to altered blood flow. In other words, HBP associated with this condition can make bruising easier.

Many pregnancies entail nausea and vomiting, and most cases are not a cause for concern. In some situations, however, such symptoms can point to preeclampsia…

8. Intense Nausea and/or Vomiting

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Morning sickness is a normal part of pregnancy. In fact, some experts believe that mild and/or moderate cases of morning sickness indicate a healthier pregnancy that is less likely to end in miscarriage. When nausea and vomiting become severe, however, it could indicate that something is wrong.

Is it preeclampsia?

Since nausea and vomiting are common pregnancy symptoms, it can be hard to tell if these events are signs of preeclampsia. Two hints that preeclampsia is to blame are 1) whether or not the queasiness is sudden, and 2) if these symptoms occur again in the second trimester. However, anyone who has questions about nausea during pregnancy is advised to speak with their medical provider.

The following is also hard to pinpoint directly to preeclampsia, as it accompanies many pregnancies…

7. Constant and/or Severe Headaches

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Headaches are common in pregnancy, which means it can be hard to tell if these pains are related to preeclampsia or a normal pregnancy.

What signals preeclampsia?

Those who notice constant headaches, intense headaches, or migraines that feel differently from previous ones should contact their medical provider. Additionally, research suggests that those who have a prior history of migraines are at increased risk of developing preeclampsia.

Pregnancy can come with unpleasant bloating and swelling, although in certain cases it could point to a serious underlying condition…

6. Swelling of the Limbs (Edema)

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Pregnancy bloating is common. Specifically, swelling due to fluid retention, or edema, is common. However, typical edema during pregnancy is restricted to the lower half of the body. Swelling in not just the lower extremities, but also the arms, hands, and face, can indicate preeclampsia.

This symptom could directly lead to the following…

5. Sudden Weight Gain

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A healthy pregnancy involves some weight gain. However, rapid weight gain can be concerning.

When is weight gain a concern?

The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that “a weight gain of more than 3 to 5 pounds in a week due to fluid retention” can indicate preeclampsia.

Another potential sign of preeclampsia can be found in the bathroom…

4. Low Urine Output (Oliguria)

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It’s no secret that pregnancy increases someone’s number of bathroom visits. When these trips produce little to no urine or urine that is dark in color, it could indicate severe conditions like preeclampsia.

This symptom is closely related to the following…

3. Proteins in the Urine (Proteinuria)

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Proteins in the urine (proteinuria), along with HBP, are the classic indicators of preeclampsia. A urinalysis can typically detect proteinuria.

Why does proteinuria occur?

Preeclampsia can affect the whole body—including the kidneys. Affected kidneys may have difficulties properly processing bodily waste. As a result, excessive amounts of proteins can make their way into urine.

Preeclampsia can be a real pain—literally

2. Abdominal Pain

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Many people with preeclampsia report pain, making it a good indicator of this condition.

Where is the pain?

Patients typically report pain in the stomach area or in the upper abdomen under the right side of the ribcage. That said, pain can also occur underneath the breastbone. Further, the pain can also radiate outwards to other parts of the body.

Of course, perhaps the most common symptom of all is the following…

1. No Symptoms

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Some people experience no symptoms of preeclampsia at all. That means the only way for these asymptomatic individuals to detect this condition is through regular healthcare visits. These visits should include urine tests and BP readings.

Final Thoughts

Preeclampsia can become life-threatening if not treated properly. As such, it’s important for pregnant people to talk to their medical providers if they have any concerns and to attend all pregnancy wellness visits.

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately. To see our full medical disclaimer, visit our Terms of Use page.

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