Risk Factors for Developing Preeclampsia

Last updated on January 23rd, 2023 at 05:19 pm

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 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 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 health care provider about your fears and doubts.

RELATED: Preeclampsia in Pregnany

Risk Factors for Developing Preeclampsia

The risk of developing preeclampsia is higher for women who:

  1. are pregnant for the first time 
  2. have had preeclampsia in the first pregnancy
  3. are younger than 20 years
  4. are older from 40 years
  5. are pregnant with more than one baby
  6. have autoimmune diseases
  7. have certain preexisting diseases
  8. have poor nutrition
  9. live in polluted areas

Risk of developing preeclampsia in the first pregnancy

The risk of preeclampsia in the first pregnancy is higher than in subsequent ones. The risk in the initial pregnancy is 4.1% and drops to 1% in the next pregnancy if a woman didn’t develop preeclampsia in the first pregnancy.

But if you’ve had preeclampsia in the first pregnancy, you’re unfortunately more likely to develop it again. According to the same study, the risk for women who have had preeclampsia in the first pregnancy increases to 14,7% in the second one. And the risk even grows further with each subsequent pregnancy.

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%

Does the age of a pregnant woman affect the risk of preeclampsia?

Yes, pregnant women older than 35 years are considered at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia. The risk of preeclampsia in older mothers is most likely higher due to the increased prevalence of hypertension and obesity, multiple births, and higher use of in vitro fertilization.

Nationwide data for the US shows that the risk of preeclampsia slightly increases for each year past 34 of age.

Some suggest that women younger than 20 years are also at a higher risk, but there is no clinical study, which would confirm these claims. 

Is the risk of Preeclampsia higher in multiple pregnancy?

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.

Autoimmune diseases and preeclampsia

Certain studies have found a slightly increased risk of preeclampsia in women diagnosed with autoimmune conditions, though the correlation is not fully understood yet. Given that both preeclampsia and autoimmune diseases are not fully understood, that is expected.

Studies to date suggest that there is a connection, but to be sure, more studies have to be done. In one study, the percent of women who had rheumatoid arthritis or lupus and developed preeclampsia was around once higher than those who did not have autoimmune diseases.

Some even think that preeclampsia may be a pregnancy-induced autoimmune condition. They believe that certain factors, such as environmental and genetic factors, increase the risk of developing an autoimmune disease, including preeclampsia.

Certain pre-pregnancy conditions increase the risk of preeclampsia

Women who have health conditions such as obesity, kidney disorder, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), or migraines before they become pregnant have an increased risk of developing preeclampsia.

Socioeconomic status

Women with low-socioeconomic status are more likely to develop preeclampsia. Their higher risk is a consequence of their eating habits and living conditions.

Many of them are living in polluted areas and consuming food of lower quality. As their diet is less diverse and contains fewer nutrients, they are prone to obesity and high blood pressure, which may lead to preeclampsia.

The higher risk of preeclampsia is also a result of the lack of certain nutrients in the body, which is a common occurrence in people with a poor diet. In particular, magnesium and calcium deficiency, and the lack of vitamins E and C, are associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia.

Other risk factors for developing preeclampsia

It is believed that the risk of preeclampsia is also higher for:

  • Ethnicity: black women may be at a higher risk to develop preeclampsia compared to other races
  • Those who are pregnant with a new partner, compared to the risk they would have if they were pregnant with the same partner
  • Those in whom the interval between two pregnancies is less than two or more than ten years
  • Women whose baby was conceived in vitro

READ ALSO: Treatment of Preeclampsia in Pregnancy


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