Risk Factors for Developing Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia can be a well-managed condition if identified soon enough, or it may lead to severe consequences if it is left untreated. We’ve gathered all known risk factors for developing preeclampsia, hoping this will encourage pregnant women who may be at higher risk to monitor their pregnancy even more closely and never miss a prenatal checkup!

What are the Preeclampsia Risk Factors?

Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition that occurs only in pregnancy and affects 8 to 10% of pregnant women. The most common sign of preeclampsia is a sudden rise in blood pressure. However, having high blood pressure alone doesn’t necessarily mean a pregnant woman has preeclampsia.

In addition to high blood pressure, have pregnant women with preeclampsia usually one or more following symptoms, protein in the urine, liver or kidney problems, severe headache, vision depravity, etc. You can read more about the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia here.

Regular prenatal care is the best way for an early preeclampsia diagnosis!

According to the data known so far, the following risk factors indicate an increased risk of preeclampsia during pregnancy. However, if you fall into one or more of these groups, that does not mean you will automatically develop preeclampsia in pregnancy!

If you belong to a group with a higher risk, take it as a reminder to closely monitor the course of your pregnancy, visit all prenatal checkups, and consult with your healthcare provider about your fears and doubts.

RELATED: Preeclampsia in Pregnancy

Risk Factors for Developing Preeclampsia

The risk of developing preeclampsia is higher for:

  1. Women younger than 20 years
  2. Pregnant women older than 35 years
  3. Women of African-American descent
  4. Those with lower socioeconomic status
  5. Women who are pregnant for the first time 
  6. Those who have had preeclampsia in the first pregnancy
  7. Women who have autoimmune diseases or some other preexisting diseases
  8. Those who have poor nutrition
  9. Women with a sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy
  10. Pregnant women that live in polluted areas
  11. Pregnant women under stress
  12. Women pregnant with more than one baby

Maternal Characteristics and Preeclampsia Risk

Your unique characteristics can play a role in determining your risk of developing preeclampsia. Let’s look at some key maternal factors that may influence this risk for preeclampsia.

1. Age-Related Risk: 

Age can be a significant factor in preeclampsia risk. Women at the extremes of age face higher chances of developing preeclampsia. Teenage pregnancies, for instance, carry an increased risk as younger mothers’ bodies are still developing, which can affect the proper functioning of blood vessels. On the other end of the spectrum, women aged 35 and above also have a higher likelihood of preeclampsia, possibly due to the increased prevalence of underlying health conditions, such as hypertension and obesity.

2. Ethnicity:

Your ethnic background may have an impact on preeclampsia risk. Research suggests that women of African-American descent may be at a higher risk than other racial groups. Factors like genetic predisposition and underlying physiological differences are believed to contribute to these disparities. By being aware of your ethnic background, healthcare providers can tailor their approach to monitor your pregnancy more closely.

3. Socioeconomic Status: 

Your socioeconomic status can influence various aspects of your health, including the risk of preeclampsia. Women with lower socioeconomic status face challenges such as limited access to quality healthcare, inadequate nutrition, and higher exposure to environmental pollutants. These factors can collectively contribute to an increased risk of developing preeclampsia. Be mindful of your circumstances and discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider, who can provide guidance and support throughout your pregnancy.

Remember, these maternal characteristics alone do not guarantee the development of preeclampsia. However, being aware of these factors allows you to take proactive steps to monitor your health more closely and seek timely medical intervention when necessary.

In the next section, we’ll explore the influence of medical history on preeclampsia risk and how understanding these factors can help ensure a healthier pregnancy.

Medical History and Preeclampsia Risk

Your medical history is crucial in understanding your risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy. By exploring certain aspects of your medical background, you and your healthcare provider can take proactive measures to monitor your pregnancy more closely and ensure a healthier outcome.

1. Previous History of Preeclampsia: 

If you have experienced preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy, it increases the likelihood of developing it again in the following pregnancies. 

The risk for recurrence varies depending on the severity of your previous preeclampsia. For example, if you had mild preeclampsia towards the end of your first pregnancy, your estimated risk of recurrence in subsequent pregnancies is about 13%. 

However, if you had severe preeclampsia before 29 weeks of gestation, your risk of recurrence can be 40% or higher. Each subsequent pregnancy further raises the risk.

The estimated risk of preeclampsia for women who have developed the condition in previous pregnancies:

Previous conditionEstimated risk of preeclampsia recurrence in subsequent pregnancies
Preeclampsia at the very end of the first pregnancyabout 13%
Severe preeclampsia before 29 weeks of the first pregnancy40 % or higher
Preeclampsia in the first two pregnanciesabout 30%
Estimated risk of preeclampsia recurrence in subsequent pregnancies

2. Autoimmune Diseases:

Certain autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, have been associated with a slightly increased risk of preeclampsia.

Although the exact connection between autoimmune diseases and preeclampsia is not fully understood, researchers believe there may be shared underlying mechanisms. If you have an autoimmune disease, it’s important to discuss this with your healthcare provider, as they can closely monitor your pregnancy and manage any potential risks.

3. Preexisting Health Conditions:

Women with preexisting health conditions face an increased risk of developing preeclampsia. Conditions such as obesity, kidney disorders, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and migraines have been identified as potential risk factors. These conditions can affect your cardiovascular health and the functioning of your blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of developing preeclampsia. 

If you have any of these conditions, your healthcare provider will closely monitor your pregnancy and work with you to manage your health effectively.

Understanding and sharing your medical history with your healthcare provider is vital for managing your pregnancy effectively. It allows them to tailor their care to your specific needs, closely monitor your health, and intervene promptly if any complications arise.

In the next section, we’ll explore the impact of lifestyle factors on preeclampsia risk and discuss how you can make informed choices to promote a healthy pregnancy.

Lifestyle Factors and Preeclampsia Risk

Certain risk factors for preeclampsia, such as maternal characteristics and medical history, are beyond your control. But there are lifestyle factors that you can actively address to reduce your risk and promote a healthier pregnancy. These are:

1. Poor Nutrition:

Having a well-balanced diet is essential for a healthy pregnancy. It is recommended to consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide essential nutrients that promote a healthy pregnancy. 

In contrast, consuming a diet high in processed foods, saturated fats, and added sugars may lead to inflammation and oxidative stress, which increase the risk of preeclampsia.

2. Lack of Certain Nutrients:

You should consume enough nutrients to lower the chances of developing preeclampsia. For example, low levels of calcium and magnesium are linked to an increased risk of this condition. 

Including foods that are rich in these nutrients, like leafy greens, dairy products, nuts, and seeds, can be beneficial. If needed, your healthcare provider may also recommend supplements to ensure you meet your nutrient requirements.

3. Sedentary Lifestyle: 

Living a sedentary lifestyle during pregnancy can increase the risk of preeclampsia. 

Moderate-intensity exercises like fast walking, swimming, or prenatal yoga can improve cardiovascular health, maintain healthy blood pressure levels, and promote overall well-being. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week and choose activities you enjoy and feel comfortable doing. 

By incorporating these lifestyle changes, you can reduce the risk of preeclampsia. 

In the next section, we’ll discuss the impact of environmental factors on preeclampsia risk and explore ways to mitigate their effects.

Environmental Factors and Preeclampsia Risk

Environmental factors can also contribute to the risk of developing preeclampsia. While you may not have direct control over some of these factors, understanding their potential impact can empower you to make informed choices and minimize any potential risks. Let’s explore a few key environmental factors:

1. Pollution and Air Quality: 

Living in areas with high levels of pollution, such as urban environments or regions with poor air quality, may increase the risk of preeclampsia. Exposure to pollutants, such as fine particulate matter and certain chemicals, can harm cardiovascular health and contribute to oxidative stress. 

If you reside in a heavily polluted area, consider taking measures to reduce your exposure, such as staying indoors on days with poor air quality, using air purifiers, and exploring alternative routes or transportation options to minimize exposure to traffic-related pollution.

2. Workplace Hazards: 

Some occupations may involve exposure to various substances or conditions that could potentially increase the risk of preeclampsia. For example, certain chemicals, solvents, heavy metals, or physically demanding tasks could pose a risk. 

If you work in an environment where you are exposed to potential hazards, discuss your concerns with your employer or occupational health professionals to ensure appropriate measures are taken to protect your health and safety during pregnancy.

3. Stress and Mental Well-being: 

Chronic stress and poor mental well-being have been linked to an increased risk of preeclampsia. High levels of stress can contribute to hormonal imbalances, inflammation, and other physiological changes that may affect pregnancy outcomes. 

It is crucial to prioritize self-care, stress management techniques, and seek support when needed. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and emotional well-being, such as meditation, mindfulness, gentle exercise, and connecting with supportive networks, can help reduce stress levels and support a healthier pregnancy.

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate exposure to environmental factors, being aware of their potential impact and taking appropriate precautions can minimize the associated risks. 

In the final section, we’ll summarize the key points discussed and emphasize the importance of regular prenatal care and open communication with your healthcare provider.

Is the risk of Preeclampsia higher in multiple pregnancies?

Mothers who are pregnant with more than one baby are at higher risk for developing preeclampsia. The risk for mothers who have twins is three times bigger compared to those who are carrying one baby, and every additional baby in the womb heightens the risk even more.

According to the study about Twin pregnancy and the risk of preeclampsia, are the chances for developing preeclampsia higher due to increased placental mass, which leads to increased blood circulating levels of sFlt1 (a protein that reduces blood vessel growth).

Problems with blood vessels are supposed to be one of the main causes of preeclampsia. Because they are not developing correctly, the blood flow to the woman’s organs is smaller, leading to higher blood pressure and other complications.

READ ALSO: Treatment of Preeclampsia in Pregnancy


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