Can I prevent preeclampsia?

Q: I had preeclampsia with my first pregnancy. Is there any way to prevent getting it again during this pregnancy?

A: Preeclampsia is a disease that only happens during pregnancy.  Two signs are required for diagnosis, beginning after the 20th week of pregnancy:  (1) elevated blood pressure (greater than or equal to 140/90) and, (2) proteinuria (the presence of protein in your urine).

Having had preeclampsia in one pregnancy, certainly is a risk factor for developing it again in any subsequent pregnancy.  Often times, this cannot be prevented. And currently, there is no sure way to prevent preeclampsia.  There are, however, certain risk factors that CAN be addressed to help decrease your risk.  Modifiable risk factors for developing preeclampsia include obesity, gestational diabetes (which is also seen more frequently in overweight women) and preexisting high blood pressure.  So starting your next pregnancy at your ideal body weight is an excellent first step to help prevent preeclampsia from occurring in your next pregnancy.  Getting regular prenatal visits is also important so that your doctor can pick up early signs of the disease.  Eating a well-balanced diet as well as regular exercise also may help play a role. 

There is also a great deal of new evidence that having adequate vitamin D levels prior to conception plays a role.  A few new studies have found that the risk of preeclampsia is 5 times greater in women with low vitamin D levels.  Your vitamin D level can be easily checked in your doctor's office with a simple blood test and can be replaced easily by taking a daily supplement.  Finally, a few studies have also found a decrease in preeclampsia in high risk women who take daily aspirin.  If you had preeclampsia in your first pregnancy, this is worth discussing with your OB.


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