Rising blood pressure
Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure and problems with the way certain organs, such as the kidneys and liver, are functioning. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, the condition develops in 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies—and doctors still aren’t sure why. If not treated, preeclampsia can develop into full-blown eclampsia, which causes seizures and even death (this is what killed poor Sybil on Downtown Abbey). So even though you might not notice your blood pressure going up, it’s important to get it checked at every prenatal visit. “Blood pressure can sometimes increase without any warning,” says Sara Soto, MD, an ob-gyn for the PIH Health Women’s Center in Whittier, California. “A blood pressure of 140/90 in a person who does not have high blood pressure could be a sign of preeclampsia.” It’s also important to know what’s normal for you—for example, if your blood pressure is usually on the low side but it’s suddenly on the high side of normal, it might not catch the attention of a nurse, and may be up to you to point it out. (Make sure you know the incredibly scary reason why women die in childbirth every year.)
Protein in urine
One of the classic preeclampsia symptoms is protein in the urine—another symptom you’d only be able to detect in the doctor’s office, after peeing on a test strip. “Protein may be in the urine due to ‘leaky’ blood vessels in the kidneys, causing protein from the blood stream to go into the urine,” says Patricia Pollio, MD, director of ob-gyn at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network, in Suffern, New York. This can happen when blood vessels are constricting due to high blood pressure. But, a 2013 report by a special task force of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) found that preeclampsia can exist without protein in the urine. The report urged doctors to base their diagnosis on other symptoms as well.