Notes on Women's Health
Notes on Women's Health

Preeclampsia Symptoms and Treatment: Can Low-Dose Aspirin Reduce the Risk of Preeclampsia?

Pregnant woman standing near windowPregnancy can be confusing, especially if it’s your first time. As your body goes through changes, it can be difficult to know what’s normal and what’s a concern. One of the most serious conditions of pregnancy is called preeclampsia, and it’s characterized by high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a condition that you might not notice, and other preeclampsia symptoms, such as headaches, nausea and vomiting, are common pregnancy symptoms.

Many women who have preeclampsia don’t feel sick at all.

On the other hand, preeclampsia symptoms can include:

  • persistent or severe headaches
  • eye problems such as blurry vision, blind spots or sensitivity to light
  • pain in the upper abdomen or behind the breastbone
  • labored breathing
  • altered mental status

What You Should Know About Preeclampsia

The exact causes of preeclampsia are not known, although poor nutrition or high body fat are suspected as contributing factors. But whatever the cause, preeclampsia affects almost 5% of pregnancies in the United States. If the condition is left untreated, it can cause many problems for you and your baby, including low birth weight and complications during delivery. In severe cases, preeclampsia can be life-threatening to you and your baby. These risks are why you should schedule regular prenatal visits with your healthcare provider, who should be check for preeclampsia symptoms such as high blood pressure and protein in your urine.

There are two types of preeclampsia: mild and severe. If you have mild preeclampsia and your baby is still in development, your doctor will probably recommend additional testing of fetal wellbeing and that you  get lots of rest, lying on your left side to take the weight of the baby off your major blood vessels. If you have severe preeclampsia, your doctor may also prescribe blood pressure medication until you are far enough along to deliver your baby safely.

Aspirin and Preeclampsia: The Latest Findings

For the past few years, many experts have recommended that pregnant women who are at a high risk of preeclampsia should take low doses of aspirin after the 12th week of their pregnancy. High-risk factors include chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, renal disease, chronic hypertension, autoimmune disease and past preeclampsia. Women who are younger than 20, older than 40, or who area carrying twins or other multiples are also at a higher level of risk.

Aspirin and preeclampsia were in the news again this summer when The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a new trial that was based on tests with more than 1,600 high-risk women. Starting between 11 and 14 weeks into their pregnancy, about 800 women took 150 milligrams of aspirin every day until 36 weeks into their pregnancy. The rest of the women took a placebo (a pill containing no medication).

The results indicate that low aspirin doses helped prevent preeclampsia among women at high risk of preeclampsia. For the women who took a placebo, 4.3% experienced preeclampsia. For the women who took aspirin, the rate was only 1.6%.

Are There Risks to Taking Aspirin During Pregnancy?

Past studies have found no significant risks to mother or baby as a result of taking low doses of aspirin during pregnancy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should go ahead and start taking aspirin every day if you’re pregnant, but it’s certainly worth discussing with your healthcare provider, especially if you think you may have a high risk of preeclampsia.

How to Help Avoid Preeclampsia

Women can do several things to help avoid preeclampsia, but one of the most important things you can do is to have regular and thorough prenatal care appointments. Your healthcare provider should check your blood pressure and test your urine for protein at each appointment. Here are a few other things you can do to reduce your chances of getting preeclampsia:

  • Know if you’re considered high-risk for preeclampsia. If you are, then you can discuss aspirin doses and other methods to reduce your risk.
  • Watch your diet and maintain a healthy weight. A healthy prenatal diet full of vitamins, minerals and the basic food groups is important for any pregnancy, as is cutting back on processed foods, refined sugars and caffeine.
  • Eliminate alcohol and any supplements and medications not prescribed by a physician, and let your physician know what supplements and medications you’re taking.
  • Know your blood pressure. Keep track of your blood pressure throughout your pregnancy and let your healthcare provider know if you see a sudden change.
  • Let your doctor know if you’re experiencing preeclampsia symptoms, including high blood pressure, headaches, nausea, vomiting or seizures.

Additional information

If you have any questions about preeclampsia or other possible pregnancy complications, feel free to contact us for more information and to discuss your particular situation. Other information resources can be found below.

The New England Journal of Medicine article: “Aspirin versus Placebo in Pregnancies at High Risk for Preterm Preeclampsia

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): frequently asked questions on preeclampsia and high blood pressure during pregnancy

You can also download the guide, “Prenatal Care Visits – From Pre-Conception to Labor & Deliver.

Prenatal Care Visits Week-by-Week

About the practice

Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is a gynecologist located in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.

Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.

For more information, go to www.garofaloobygn.com. John Garofalo, MD, and Laury Berkwitt, APRN, can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.803.1098.