Last year about 300,000 women were treated for preeclampsia -- a pregnancy-induced condition characterized by high blood pressure that usually occurs in the third trimester. Because it causes the blood vessels to narrow, the condition can restrict blood flow to the placenta, kidneys, and liver. Most women don't have symptoms, but those who do may experience swelling, headaches, and sudden weight gain (more than five pounds in a week).
It's not known what causes preeclampsia, but if you've had it before, there's a 20 percent chance you'll get it again. Women who already have high blood pressure, or who have diabetes or lupus, are also more likely to develop the condition, as are moms-to-be over 35 and those carrying multiples.
While there's no guaranteed way to prevent the disease, here's what to keep in mind:
- Take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise (even if it's a short daily walk), and take your prenatal vitamin -- all steps for staying healthy.
- Don't put off appointments. Checks for high blood pressure, extreme weight gain, and protein in your urine can help with early detection.
- Ask your doctor about taking vitamins C and E. Studies have found that these antioxidants may reduce your risk.
- Consider aspirin. Check with your ob: A low dose taken daily may benefit some women in high-risk groups.
If you do develop preeclampsia, you'll be monitored and your doctor will probably induce labor.