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Preeclampsia is a very serious pregnancy complication that is characterized by high blood pressure with protein in the urine. Other organs, frequently the kidneys, can be damaged by preeclampsia.

The only cure is the delivery of the baby, and preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome which may have fatal consequences if left untreated. Are you at risk of developing preeclampsia?

Thanks to Danny Cain/Flickr Creative Commons.

Thanks to Danny Cain/Flickr Creative Commons.

Preeclampsia risk factors

Preeclampsia comes with some predictable and a few incredibly surprising risk factors. Women with a family history of the condition are more likely to develop it as well, and those with a personal history of preeclampsia also have bigger odds of getting it again during a subsequent pregnancy. Since preeclampsia involves high blood pressure, it is no surprise that women who suffer from chronic hypertension are more likely to get this condition. Those with diabetes, migraines, a higher risk of blood clots or lupus are also at an increased risk for preeclampsia.

Other risk factors include being over 40, obese a first-time mother, and twin or multiple pregnancies. What's surprising is that moms who have children less than two years apart or more than 10 years apart are also both at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia. And the really weird risk factor is having children with different partners. Having a baby with a new man places you at a higher risk of preeclampsia than having another baby with the same partner. Fascinating, right?

Is there anything you can do to prevent preeclampsia?

Science has been working on figuring that one out for a while. We know that being on preventative bed rest, taking all the right vitamins, being more or less active, reducing your salt intake and eating garlic aren't going to prevent you from developing preeclampsia. Having said that, making a healthy diet a priority is still advised, obviously. Earlier this month, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) did come out with a recommendation that women who are at high risk of developing preeclampsia take low doses of aspirin daily after 12 weeks of pregnancy. This advice follows a review of earlier research in favor of aspirin, and found that taking this well-known blood thinner and pain killer could reduce the odds of developing preeclampsia by 24 percent for women in the high-risk category.

Daily use of low-dose aspirin

"can reduce the risk of preterm birth by 14 percent and the risk of intrauterine growth restriction when a baby grows slower than expected in the mother's uterus by 20 percent,"

USPSTF task force member Dr Jessica Herzstein said, adding:

"This results in better outcomes for both the mother and the baby."

They don't know how aspirin works to reduce the a woman's risk of developing preeclampsia, but knowing that it does work is good enough. Individual patients can maximize their chances of enjoying a healthy and safe pregnancy by eating well, exercising regularly unless contraindicated, and attending prenatal care regularly. The prenatal checkups and tests will ensure that preeclampsia is caught early on if you do develop it, while women with risk factors may well be prescribed that daily aspirin.

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