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Preeclampsia is high blood pressure and signs of organ damage, such as protein in the urine, usually after 20 weeks of pregnancy. If it's not managed, it can harm you or your baby and lead to dangerous seizures (eclampsia). Preeclampsia usually goes away after the baby is born. But symptoms may last or appear after delivery.
Experts don't know the exact cause of preeclampsia. It seems to start because the placenta doesn't grow the usual network of blood vessels deep in the uterine wall. This leads to poor blood flow in the placenta. It's not clear what causes this placenta problem and why high blood pressure develops.
Mild preeclampsia usually doesn't cause symptoms. But it may cause rapid weight gain and sudden swelling of the hands and face. Severe preeclampsia causes symptoms such as a very bad headache and trouble seeing and breathing. It also can cause belly pain and decreased urination.
Preeclampsia is usually found during a routine prenatal visit. That's one reason it's important to go to all of your visits.
At each prenatal visit, you'll be weighed and your blood pressure will be measured. An increase in blood pressure often is the first sign of a problem. If you are at high risk for preeclampsia, you may have other tests, such as blood tests and a test to check for protein in your urine.
If tests suggest that you have preeclampsia, you'll be carefully checked for the rest of your pregnancy. Your baby's health also will be closely watched. The more severe your condition is, the more often you'll need testing. This might range from once a week to daily.
If you have mild preeclampsia, you'll have frequent office visits and testing to check you and your baby. The doctor may want you to check your blood pressure at home. And you'll need to watch for signs of preeclampsia, such as a severe headache or vision changes.
If your preeclampsia is severe or getting worse, you may need to be in the hospital. Your doctor will closely monitor you and your baby. You may get medicines to lower your blood pressure and prevent seizures. You may get medicine to help prepare your baby's lungs for birth.
Your doctor will try to deliver your baby when your baby has grown enough to be ready for birth. But sometimes early delivery is needed to protect your health or your baby. If this happens, your baby will get special care for premature babies.
Preeclampsia often goes away after delivery. But sometimes symptoms last or get worse after delivery.
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Some things increase your risk of preeclampsia. For example, your risk is higher if you:
If you have risk factors for preeclampsia, it may help to:
It's important to go to all of your prenatal visits. This helps your doctor find and treat problems early. This may help you avoid preeclampsia.
Mild preeclampsia usually doesn't cause symptoms. But it may cause symptoms such as:
Severe preeclampsia can cause:
Preeclampsia affects your blood pressure and can also affect your placenta, liver, blood, kidneys, and brain. Preeclampsia can be mild or severe. And it may get worse gradually or quickly.
If your preeclampsia is mild, you may only need more frequent prenatal visits and testing. You may be able to carry your baby to term. If your preeclampsia becomes severe, you may need to deliver your baby early. Your doctor may induce labor or deliver your baby with surgery (cesarean section).
Preeclampsia often goes away after delivery. But sometimes symptoms of preeclampsia may last or get worse after delivery. In rare cases, symptoms don't show up until days or even weeks after childbirth.
After you've had this condition, you have an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. To protect your health, work with your doctor to have a heart-healthy lifestyle and get the checkups you need.
When you have preeclampsia, it's very important to get treatment. That's because both you and your baby could have serious problems that involve your:
The earlier in the pregnancy that preeclampsia starts and the more severe it gets, the greater the risk of preterm birth. A preterm birth can cause problems for the newborn. For example, a baby born before 37 weeks may have trouble breathing because of immature lungs (respiratory distress syndrome). You may be given medicine before delivery to help prevent lung problems.
A newborn affected by preeclampsia may also be smaller than normal. This is because the baby may not get enough nutrition due to poor blood flow through the placenta.
Share this information with your partner or a friend. They can help you watch for warning signs.
911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
Preeclampsia is usually found during regular prenatal checkups. That's one reason it's important to go to all of your prenatal visits. Tests are done at each visit to check for preeclampsia, including:
Blood pressure is always watched closely during pregnancy.
Rapid weight gain can be a sign of preeclampsia.
If you're at high risk for preeclampsia, you may also have other tests, including:
Too much protein in the urine can be a sign of kidney damage caused by preeclampsia.
These may be done to check for problems such as HELLP syndrome and kidney damage.
If tests suggest that you have preeclampsia, you'll be carefully checked for the rest of your pregnancy. Your baby's health also will be closely watched. The more severe your preeclampsia is, the more often you'll need testing. This might range from once a week to daily.
At prenatal visits, you may have a physical exam to check for signs that preeclampsia is getting worse. You may also have urine tests and blood tests to check for blood problems and kidney damage.
Tests to check on your baby may include:
If you have mild preeclampsia, you will have frequent office visits. Your doctor will check on your baby, monitor your blood pressure and weight, and do urine and blood tests. The doctor may also want you to check your blood pressure at home. And you'll need to watch for symptoms of preeclampsia, such as a severe headache or vision changes.
If preeclampsia is severe or getting worse, you may need to be treated in the hospital. Your doctor will closely monitor you and your baby. You may get medicines to lower your blood pressure and magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. You also may get medicine to help prepare your baby's lungs for birth.
Your doctor will try to deliver your baby when the baby has grown enough to be ready for birth. But sometimes early delivery is needed to protect your health or your baby. If this happens, your baby will get special care for premature babies.
A vaginal delivery is usually the safest way to deliver the baby. It is tried first if you and your baby are both stable. A cesarean section (C-section) is needed if your preeclampsia is quickly getting worse or your baby can't safely handle labor contractions.
If you have moderate to severe preeclampsia, your risk of seizures (eclampsia) continues for the first 24 to 48 hours after childbirth. So you may keep getting magnesium sulfate after delivery.
Preeclampsia usually goes away after delivery. But sometimes symptoms may last or get worse after delivery. In rare cases, symptoms of preeclampsia don't show up until days or even weeks after childbirth.
If your blood pressure is still high after delivery, you may be given a blood pressure medicine. You will have regular checkups with your doctor. If you didn't have high blood pressure before pregnancy, your blood pressure is likely to return to normal a few days after delivery.
After having preeclampsia, you have a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. To protect your health, work with your doctor to build heart-healthy habits and get the checkups you need.
If you have preeclampsia, you may take medicine to:
Your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medicine if your blood pressure reaches high levels that may be dangerous to you or your baby. But lowering high blood pressure doesn't prevent preeclampsia from getting worse. High blood pressure is only a symptom of preeclampsia. It's not a cause.
Magnesium sulfate may be started before delivery and continued after delivery if you have moderate to severe preeclampsia. It can help prevent seizures (eclampsia).
When possible, steroid medicine is given before a premature birth. It helps the baby's lungs to mature over a 24-hour period. This lowers the baby's risk of breathing problems after birth.
Current as of:
July 11, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: July 11, 2023
Clinical Review Board:
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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