Preeclampsia and COVID-19: What you need to know

May 19, 2020

Preeclampsia is a serious health condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after birth. Women who have preeclampsia develop high blood pressure and may also have signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working normally.  Most women with preeclampsia have healthy babies. But if it’s not treated, it can cause severe health problems for a woman and her baby.

How common is preeclampsia and how do I know if I have it?

Preeclampsia affects 2 to 8 percent of pregnancies worldwide and is the cause of 15 percent (about 1 in 8) of premature births in the United States. It can develop gradually, or have a sudden onset, flaring up in a matter of hours. You can also have mild preeclampsia without symptoms. During your prenatal care checkups your health care provider will measure your blood pressure and test your urine for protein. In the case of preeclampsia, there’s usually a presence of protein in the urine.

Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include:

  • Changes in vision, like blurriness, flashing lights, seeing spots or being sensitive to light
  • Headache that doesn’t go away
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting or dizziness
  • Pain in the upper right belly area or in the shoulder
  • Sudden weight gain (2 to 5 pounds in a week)
  • Swelling in the legs, hands or face
  • Trouble breathing

If you have even one sign or symptom, call your provider right away. Without treatment, preeclampsia can cause serious health problems for you and your baby, even death.

Preeclampsia and COVID-19

At this time, we have limited pregnancy-specific data about COVID-19. However, more studies are being published and we are learning more each day. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, at the moment there is not a connection between preeclampsia and COVID-19.

If you have high blood pressure during pregnancy, but it’s well controlled, you probably don’t have a higher risk of getting seriously ill by COVID-19. However, make sure you talk to your provider about how to control your blood pressure, before and during pregnancy.

The current pandemic has affected so much of our daily routines. Chances are that this pandemic has most likely affected your prenatal care. If you have been diagnosed with preeclampsia, talk to your provider about what your prenatal and postpartum care will look like during this time. It may be a little different.  Some may be done virtually or by telehealth. Telehealth (also called telemedicine) is a visit with your provider where you communicate using your phone, tablet or computer. Your provider can guide you through questions about taking your blood pressure at home. The Preeclampsia Foundation has a great guide with information about taking your blood pressure at home.

It’s normal to have lots of questions and even feel worried during the pandemic. There seem to be more questions than answers. Be sure you find ways to cope with the additional stress and anxiety that COVID-19 has brought on. Talk to your health care provider about how you are feeling and ask any questions you have about what your healthcare will look like for you at this time.

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