Preeclampsia with severe features is the most serious type of preeclampsia. People may experience severe headaches, high blood pressure, and difficulty breathing.

Preeclampsia with severe features may occur during or soon after pregnancy. People with this condition typically develop high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, vision dysfunction, and other cognitive symptoms, such as mental confusion.

Preeclampsia with severe features is a serious condition that requires medical treatment to prevent further health complications for the pregnant person and their baby. People with this condition may require hospitalization and to deliver their baby early once their conditions stabilize.

This article will explain preeclampsia with severe features, its symptoms, how doctors diagnose and treat it, and how people may prevent it.

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Preeclampsia with severe features, also known as severe preeclampsia, is a serious condition that can occur in pregnant people who have severe high blood pressure and signs of dysfunction of one or multiple major organs, such as the heart, brain, liver, or kidneys.

Preeclampsia with severe features needs medical treatment, and if left untreated, can cause the death of both the pregnant person and their baby.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs when a person has persistent hypertension during or after pregnancy, and the placenta does not receive enough blood from the pregnant person’s body. This means there is a disruption of the blood flow between the baby and the pregnant person.

Preeclampsia happens in about 1 out of 25 gestations in the United States and if left untreated, can cause severe health complications to the pregnant person and their baby.

Doctors do not currently know the exact causes of preeclampsia. Experts think this may occur due to a combination of factors, including:

  • genetics
  • having a late pregnancy
  • autoimmune factors
  • environmental factors
  • hormonal imbalances
  • nutritional factors

Learn more about preeclampsia.

The main symptoms of preeclampsia include high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine, which can suggest the kidneys are not functioning properly. However, rarely, people may develop symptoms of preeclampsia without hypertension.

Other symptoms of preeclampsia may include:

  • a new headache that does not go away after taking pain medications
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain in the upper stomach
  • vision changes, such as blurred vision
  • swelling of the hands, feet, and face
  • sudden weight gain of more than 3–5 pounds per week
  • difficulties breathing
  • mental symptoms, such as confusion and anxiety

If a person develops any symptoms of preeclampsia during pregnancy or after giving birth, they should contact a doctor. Preeclampsia can cause serious complications to both the pregnant person and their baby when left untreated.

Doctors can perform relevant tests to understand the underlying cause of the symptoms a person experiences and recommend the most appropriate treatment for the safety of the parent and baby.

If a pregnant person has hypertension after 20 weeks of pregnancy or protein in their urine, this may be a sign of preeclampsia. Doctors typically diagnose preeclampsia if a person has both of these symptoms or if they have high blood pressure and at least one of the following symptoms:

  • a new headache that does not resolve after taking pain relievers
  • high levels of liver enzymes, suggesting impaired liver function
  • a low platelet count in the blood
  • signs of impaired kidney function or kidney problems
  • a new vision change or disturbance
  • seizures
  • presence of fluid in the lungs or pulmonary edema

Doctors may take blood pressure measurements and monitor blood pressure throughout the day if the first reading shows hypertension. This is because several factors can influence blood pressure, and having multiple readings can help doctors understand if the high blood pressure is persistent.

If doctors suspect preeclampsia, they typically collect blood and urine samples for laboratory testing. The blood sample can show a person’s platelet count, while urine samples can show the presence of protein in the urine, which could suggest that the kidneys are not working effectively.

Doctors may also recommend undergoing a fetal ultrasound and other tests to monitor the baby’s growth and general health during the pregnancy.

Doctors typically recommend delivering the baby to treat preeclampsia if the pregnancy is at 37 weeks or later. This is also to avoid further health complications to the fetus.

Doctors may prescribe anticonvulsive medications, such as magnesium sulfate, to prevent seizures that can occur with preeclampsia. If a person has preeclampsia with severe features, doctors may recommend hospitalization. This is to make sure the pregnant person and their baby receive close monitoring and appropriate treatment.

Additional treatment people may receive during hospitalization may include:

  • medications to prevent seizures and other health complications
  • intravenous (IV) drugs to manage blood pressure
  • steroid injections to speed up the development of the baby, in particular, of their lungs

For some, preeclampsia may not go away after giving birth. Having had preeclampsia during pregnancy can also increase the risk of recurrence of this condition again during future pregnancies. It may also increase the risk of developing diabetes.

A person who has experienced preeclampsia has about four times the risk of developing chronic high blood pressure and twice the risk of having heart disease or a stroke than someone who has not had this condition.

However, having had preeclampsia does not mean that a person will develop any health complications later in life or that they will experience its symptoms again in a future pregnancy.

Leading an active and healthy lifestyle may help reduce the risk of preeclampsia. Maintaining a moderate body weight, eating a balanced diet, and managing blood pressure before becoming pregnant may play a role in preventing it from occurring.

Doctors may also recommend taking a low dose of aspirin after 12 weeks of gestation to reduce the risk of preeclampsia in people who have a higher risk of developing this condition.

Preeclampsia with severe features, also known as severe preeclampsia, is a serious condition that can occur during or soon after pregnancy. Its most common symptoms typically include severe hypertension and the presence of protein in the urine. However, some people can develop this condition’s symptoms without having high blood pressure.

Preeclampsia with severe features requires medical attention and occasionally, hospitalization. If left untreated, preeclampsia can cause serious health complications to the pregnant person and their baby, including organ failure and death.