Most women with preeclampsia have healthy babies, but it can cause severe problems for moms. Without treatment, preeclampsia can cause kidney, liver and brain damage. It also may affect how the blood clots and cause serious bleeding problems.
In rare cases, preeclampsia can become a life-threatening condition called eclampsia. Eclampsia is when a pregnant woman has seizures following preeclampsia. Eclampsia sometimes can lead to coma.
What are the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia?
Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include:
Many of these signs and symptoms are normal discomforts of pregnancy. But if you have severe headaches, blurred vision or severe upper belly pain, call your health care provider.
What pregnancy complications can preeclampsia cause?
If you have preeclampsia, your health care provider can help you manage most health complications through regular prenatal care. Pregnant women with preeclampsia are more likely than women who don’t have preeclampsia to have these complications:
How is preeclampsia diagnosed?
Your provider measures your blood pressure and checks your urine for protein at every visit. Because you can have mild preeclampsia without symptoms, it’s important to go to all of your prenatal care visits.
How is preeclampsia treated?
The cure for preeclampsia is the birth of your baby. Treatment depends on how severe your preeclampsia is and how far along you are in your pregnancy. Even if you have mild preeclampsia, you need treatment to make sure it doesn’t get worse.
Mild preeclampsia before 37 weeks. Some women in this condition can stay at home, but others need to stay in the hospital. Your provider checks your blood pressure and urine regularly to make sure your preeclampsia doesn’t get worse.
If your preeclampsia does get worse, your provider may induce labor. This means your provider gives you medicine or breaks your water (amniotic sac) to make you start labor. Inducing labor can help prevent possible problems from preeclampsia that gets worse.
Your provider also checks your baby’s health using:
Mild preeclampsia at 37 weeks or beyond. Most women in this condition don’t have serious health problems.
Severe preeclampsia at 34 weeks or beyond. This condition requires you to be in the hospital, and your provider may induce labor.
Severe preeclampsia before 34 weeks. This condition requires you to stay in the hospital for close monitoring. Your provider may treat you with a medicine called corticosteroid. This medicine helps speed up the growth of your baby’s lungs. If your preeclampsia gets worse, you may need to give birth early. Most babies of moms with severe preeclampsia before 34 weeks of pregnancy do better in a NICU than if they stay in the uterus.
Severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. HELLP syndrome is a rare but life-threatening liver disorder. It happens in about 1 to 2 of 1,000 pregnancies. About 2 in 10 women (20 percent) with severe preeclampsia develop HELLP syndrome.
If you have HELLP syndrome early in your pregnancy, you almost always need to give birth early to prevent serious health problems. You may need medicine to control your blood pressure and prevent seizures. Some women also need blood transfusions. A blood transfusion means you have new blood put into your body.
If you have preeclampsia, can you have a vaginal birth?
Yes. A vaginal birth may be better than a cesarean birth (c-section) for a woman with preeclampsia. A c-section is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus. Having a vaginal birth lets you avoid the stress of surgery. It’s safe for most women with preeclampsia to have an epidural to cope with pain during labor and birth as long as her blood can clot normally.
What causes preeclampsia?
We don’t know what causes preeclampsia. But you may be more likely than other women to have preeclampsia if:
If you’ve had preeclampsia before, what are your chances of having it again?
If you’ve had preeclampsia before, you’re more likely than other women to have it again in another pregnancy. The earlier in pregnancy you had preeclampsia, the higher your risk is to have it again in another pregnancy. Women who are overweight may be more likely to develop preeclampsia in another pregnancy than women at a healthy weight.
How can you reduce your risk for preeclampsia?
There’s no way to prevent preeclampsia. But if you’re overweight or obese, getting to a healthy weight before pregnancy may help lower your chances of having preeclampsia.
Last reviewed October 2012