By Jodi Klaristenfeld, Founder of FLRRISH, a NICU parent support resource

While there are many things I wish I’d known before the preterm birth of my daughter, one stands out above the rest: preeclampsia symptoms and signs. 

At the 28-week mark, my seemingly “perfect pregnancy” took a major turn. I gained 20 pounds in five days, my urine turned orange, I started seeing spots, and my vision blurred. I later learned that I had a life-threatening condition called HELLP syndrome—a rare form of preeclampsia that eventually led to the preterm birth of my daughter.

Had it not been for my mother’s encouragement to seek medical help, I’m not sure where I would be today. Fortunately, my daughter Jenna was born and, four years later, she is a happy and thriving little girl.

 As a NICU parent advocate, I’m dedicated to spreading awareness about preterm birth to help educate and empower families. Preeclampsia is incredibly common, affecting 1 in every 25 pregnancies–yet many women are unaware of its symptoms. That’s why I want to share everything you need to know about preeclampsia so you can recognize the signs and be prepared for when it happens.

What Is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-specific vascular disorder. It’s characterized by vascular endothelial dysfunction and abnormalities in placental implantation. Research shows these conditions cause circulatory issues and, in some cases, intrauterine growth restriction.

Put simply, preeclampsia is a hypertensive disorder. It occurs when women who had normal blood pressure suddenly develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. This puts added stress on their organs and impacts blood flow to the placenta. 

While preeclampsia resolves postpartum, it can be very dangerous to both the mother and child during pregnancy.

Preeclampsia and Its Relationship to Preterm Birth 

Preeclampsia is one of the leading causes of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. 

Preeclampsia will often lead to preterm birth because it puts the mother and the child at risk. If left untreated, the mother can experience severe organ damage or even seizures. Doctors often have to make the decision to induce birth early to avoid further harm.

In my case, I was induced within hours of visiting the hospital. During the birth of my daughter, my blood pressure rose to 190/150. The doctors had to give me platelets at the same time they were delivering her. At one point, they were concerned they might have to choose between saving my daughter or me, and whether or not I would need a hysterectomy. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that in either scenario, but this is a stark reality some families have to face. 

When I later learned about my condition and how common it was, I was shocked by the lack of awareness surrounding preeclampsia. My first thought was, “Didn’t Kim Kardashian have something like this? Isn’t that why she used surrogates to carry her children?” Even with all of her celebrity and fame, preeclampsia still has not received the attention it deserves.

While not all cases of preeclampsia lead to preterm birth, it does increase the likelihood of it occurring. The best way to mitigate the effects of preeclampsia is by understanding the risk factors and symptoms.

Preeclampsia Symptoms and Signs

Before we proceed, I’d like to share a personal perspective. As a mom of a preterm child, I know how easy it is to blame yourself when your birth doesn’t go as planned. So, allow me to emphasize this: If you experienced preeclampsia, preterm birth, or had a child in the NICU, it is not your fault. While we can be mindful of the risk factors and familiarize ourselves with the signs, it’s important to recognize there are a lot of factors outside of our control.

I wish someone had told me this during the long hours I sat in the NICU with my daughter feeling guilty about her birth. The truth is, the best thing you can do for you and your baby is to empower yourself through education.

With that out of the way, let’s get into it. 

First, the risk factors. If any of the following applies to you, you may be at risk for developing preeclampsia:

  • A family history of high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes
  • Pregnant and expecting multiples such as twins or triplets
  • Autoimmune issues 
  • Obesity
  • A family history of preeclampsia or preeclampsia during a previous pregnancy
  • Over the age of 35
  • Assisted reproductive technology (such as IVF)

Now, let’s move on to the symptoms. It’s important to note that preeclampsia symptoms usually appear late in the third trimester. 

Symptoms include:

  • Water retention and rapid weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision or light sensitivity
  • Dark spots appearing in your vision
  • Right-side abdominal pain
  • Swelling in your hands and face (edema)
  • Shortness of breath
  • High protein levels in urine

While this is not an entirely comprehensive list, it’s a good rule of thumb to reach out to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

What to Do if You Have Preeclampsia Symptoms

If you are experiencing these symptoms, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, call your doctor, and reach out to a friend or family member for support.

The good news is that catching preeclampsia early lowers the chances of the mother and baby experiencing complications. The more you can do to monitor your health, recognize the signs, and seek medical help when you need it, the better. In fact, statistics show that remote patient blood pressure monitoring in pregnancy reduces inductions, and antepartum admissions, and reduces preeclampsia by 50% thanks to telehealth and remote healthcare personalized plans.

Alison Cowan, MD, and board-certified OB/GYN said in an interview,  “In a perfect world, I would have every patient who is high-risk of preeclampsia knowing the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia and when to call.” 

There are also exciting medical advances being made everyday. Most recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a blood test that can identify pregnant women who are at imminent risk of developing preeclampsia with up to 96 percent accuracy.

In short? Knowledge is power. By staying aware of the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia we can proactively safeguard our health and minimize complications. If you learned something new, I invite you to share this article with a friend or post it on your social media. You never know who might need to hear it!

For more information and resources, take a look at FLRRiSH’s Service Guide for tools, support, and services for preemie moms and dads. Additionally, you can check out Christy Turlington’s Every Mother Counts charity to donate and learn more about reducing maternal mortality.


A Blood Test Predicts Pre-eclampsia in Pregnant Women (2023) The New York Times. Available at: (Accessed: 7 July 2023).

"Deep dive into 2023 predictions for women's health." Contemporary Pediatrics, vol. 40, no. 1, Jan.-Feb. 2023, p. 42. Gale In Context: High School, Accessed 16 June 2023.

High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy (2023) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: (Accessed: 26 June 2023). 

Kallella, J. Jaaskenlainen, T. Kortelaninen, E. Heinonen, S. Kajantie, E. Kere, J. Kivinen, K. Pouta, A. Laivouri, H. (2016) The diagnosis of pre-eclampsia using two revised classifications in the Finnish Pre-eclampsia Consortium (FINNPEC) cohort, BMC. Available at: (Accessed: 19 June 2023).