Can Women Reduce Their Risk For Preeclampsia?

Written by Jeremy Farnum on

Preeclampsia cannot always be avoided, but there are plenty of healthy steps women can take to reduce their risk.

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Preeclampsia cannot always be avoided, but there are plenty of healthy steps women can take to reduce their risk.

Preeclampsia is a severe pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure. When not treated, it can lead to a wide range of problems that affect both the mother and baby. Preterm birth, organ damage, and heart disease are some of the many conditions linked to preeclampsia.

Researchers aren't completely sure what causes preeclampsia. However, the condition has been linked to a wide range of risk factors. Knowing what these factors are may help you avoid preeclampsia.

Here are steps you can take to reduce your risk for preeclampsia and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center to increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

Manage Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is the top risk factor for developing preeclampsia. If you plan on becoming pregnant, work on lowering your blood pressure if it's high. If you're already pregnant, take steps to manage and control your blood pressure as best as possible throughout pregnancy.

You can control your blood pressure by exercising regularly, drinking less alcohol, and reducing stress. Cutting back on caffeine, losing excess weight, and getting plenty of sleep are other effective ways to manage your blood pressure.

Your OB-GYN will take a blood pressure reading at nearly every one of your prenatal appointments. This is done partly to screen for preeclampsia. If your blood pressure is too high, your doctor will talk to you more about things you can do to get it back in a healthy range.

Control Or Avoid Diabetes

Having type 1 or type 2 diabetes before pregnancy is another top risk factor for preeclampsia. Many women with diabetes have high amounts of protein in their urine which increases the risk for preeclampsia.

If you have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to control your blood sugar levels during pregnancy. Take your diabetes medications as directed and make exercise and nutrition top priorities. Try to avoid giving into "pregnancy cravings" such as ice cream, sweets, and other junk foods that can elevate your blood sugar.

If you have prediabetes, take steps immediately to prevent it from becoming type 2 diabetes. Your doctor can monitor your blood sugar regularly and work with you to reduce your risk.

Care For Your Kidneys

Kidney disease is a risk factor for preeclampsia, which is also linked to protein in the urine. Take good care of your kidneys by maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and following the directions on all over-the-counter medicines.

Many chronic health conditions are also linked to chronic kidney disease, including diabetes and high blood pressure. If you have a medical condition that increases your risk for kidney disease, work with your doctor to control it. It also helps to familiarize yourself with signs of kidney damage.

Lose Excess Weight

Preeclampsia tends to be more common in women who are overweight or obese. If you can, try to lose as much excess weight as possible before pregnancy to avoid preeclampsia. Start exercising regularly, increase your activity level, and make healthy changes to your diet.

Obesity is also closely linked to other preeclampsia risk factors, including high blood pressure and diabetes. While it's completely normal and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy, monitor your weight gain closely. Make sure your weight gain is not caused by eating higher amounts of sweets and salty foods.

Consider Conceiving Earlier In Life

Women aged 35 and older are at higher risk for developing preeclampsia. It's perfectly safe and normal to have a baby after age 35. However, if you meet other risk factors for preeclampsia or this condition runs in your family, consider conceiving earlier in life. Understandably, not everyone has the opportunity or ability to get pregnant earlier in life. Still, it’s definitely worth considering if your goal is to avoid preeclampsia.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise offers countless benefits for pregnancy and is one of the most effective ways you may be able to avoid preeclampsia. Exercise naturally lowers your blood pressure and balances your blood sugar levels and hormones. It can reduce your risk for related conditions, including diabetes and obesity.

Exercise regularly before pregnancy and during pregnancy. Sometimes it can even help reduce nausea and morning sickness during your first trimester.

If you were exercising before pregnancy, it should be safe to maintain your current routine as long as your OB-GYN approves. You may find it difficult to do certain activities later on in your pregnancy, like running or bicycling. At that point, you can reduce your intensity level and stick to swimming, walking, or whatever makes you feel most comfortable.

Get Plenty Of Quality Sleep

Poor sleep and lack of sleep have been linked to high blood pressure. Poor sleep is also linked to obesity, hormone imbalances, anxiety, and depression.

Quality sleep is essential during pregnancy. Not only can it reduce your risk for preeclampsia, but it can help you feel more energized, given how tiring pregnancy can be.

Try sleeping on your left side to promote good blood flow and circulation—including through the kidneys. Your OB-GYN can give you additional tips on how to sleep more comfortably during pregnancy.

Reduce Your Caffeine Intake

Many recent studies show a link between caffeine and preeclampsia. According to a 2016 study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, caffeine is linked to the development of preeclampsia and raises systolic blood pressure levels during the first and third trimesters.

It can be difficult to reduce your caffeine intake during pregnancy, especially if you try doing it abruptly or have been drinking coffee every day for years. Ask your OB-GYN for their recommendation regarding the amount of caffeine you can safely consume every day without putting yourself or your baby at risk. If possible, consider swapping out coffee for beverages with lower amounts of caffeine, such as white or green teas.

Eat Less Sodium

High amounts of salt and sodium can raise your blood pressure and increase your preeclampsia risk. It can also worsen problems with water retention. During pregnancy, it’s common to experience water retention due to hormonal changes and fluctuations.

Examine your diet and look for ways to cut back on your sodium intake. Eat fewer fast foods, fried foods, and processed foods such as frozen meals—as all these foods usually contain high amounts of sodium. When cooking at home, use less table salt and experiment more with herbs and spices that can add delicious bursts of flavor to your meals. Cilantro, parsley, chili powder, and paprika are some of the many healthy seasonings you can use in place of table salt.

Practice Good Nutrition

Certain foods are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants that can naturally regulate your blood pressure and clean your blood and body of toxins. Healthy, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish are not only low in sodium and sugar. Still, they can make you feel energetic and contribute to a healthy baby and pregnancy.

A Mediterranean diet during pregnancy is linked to a reduced risk of preeclampsia, according to a study published in a 2022 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers who led the study found that women who ate a Mediterranean diet were at least 20% less likely to develop preeclampsia.

Foods that make up the Mediterranean diet include:

  1. Vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
  2. Fruits, such as apples, pears, grapes, bananas, and peaches.
  3. Nuts, seeds, and nut butters, including walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almond butter, and peanut butter.
  4. Legumes and beans, such as lentils, chickpeas, and peas.
  5. Whole grains include rice, whole-wheat pasta, oats, and barley.
  6. Fish, including salmon, tuna, shrimp, crab, and mackerel.
  7. Poultry, such as turkey, chicken, and duck.
  8. Eggs.
  9. Dairy, such as Greek yogurt and cheese.
  10. Healthy fats, including avocados and extra virgin olive oil.
  11. Herbs and spices, including garlic, cinnamon, basil, rosemary, and mint.

Work Closely With Your OB-GYN

Attend all your OB-GYN appointments during pregnancy. All these appointments are necessary to ensure you and your baby are in good health. They also screen you for conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Also, be sure to undergo blood testing and other tests recommended during pregnancy that can reveal signs of preeclampsia.

Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. Excess protein in your urine
  3. Other signs of kidney problems
  4. Low levels of platelets in the blood
  5. Increased liver enzymes
  6. Headaches
  7. Blurred vision or vision loss
  8. Shortness of breath
  9. Pain in the upper abdominal area
  10. Nausea or vomiting

Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or OB-GYN if you experience any of the above symptoms or if anything feels “off” during your pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can perform an examination and discuss all your available treatment options.

Women's Health Services At Lompoc Valley Medical Center

Lompoc Valley Medical Center offers a wide range of women's health services. We can work with you to reduce your risk for preeclampsia and ensure you have a healthy pregnancy if you are diagnosed with this condition. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.

Jeremy Farnum
Written By Jeremy Farnum
Jeremy works for Lompoc Valley Medical Center.