Pre-eclampsia is a problem that occurs in some women during pregnancy. Blood pressure increases, protein appears in the urine, and organs can be damaged. This usually occurs during the second half of the pregnancy.
Cardiovascular System and Kidneys
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The cause of pre-eclampsia is unknown.
Pre-eclampsia is more common in African-American women, and in women aged 40 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of pre-eclampsia: Pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancyFirst pregnancyFamily history, such as a mother or sister who also had the conditionCarrying multiple babies such as twinsChronic high blood pressureObesityKidney diseaseDiabetes
Sleep-disordered breathing—abnormal breathing during sleep ranging from
polycystic ovary syndromeAntiphospholipid antibody syndrome
Women with pre-eclampsia may have no symptoms. It is important to see your doctor regularly during pregnancy to detect problems early.
In women with symptoms, pre-eclampsia may cause: HeadachesBloating or water retentionNoticeably swollen ankles or feet, worse than the normal swelling that occurs during pregnancySwelling of the face and upper bodyVision troublesUpper abdominal painNausea or vomitingFeeling short of breathChest painUrinating less
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Preeclampsia is diagnosed if a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and significant protein in her urine.
Tests may include: Blood pressure measurement to see if the blood pressure is 140/90 or higherUrine tests to look for elevated protein levelsBlood tests—to check general body health and kidney and liver function
Treating pre-eclampsia early can prevent its progression to eclampsia, which is seizures caused by severe pre-eclampsia.
Treatment may include:
The only way to cure pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby. The decision for delivery depends on a combination of factors, such as: How many weeks along you are in your pregnancyCondition of you and your babySeverity of the pre-eclampsiaRisk of other pregnancy complications
Labor may happen naturally or it may be induced. If there are life-threatening circumstances for either you or your baby, a cesarean section may be required. During labor, you may need medication to control your blood pressure and prevent seizures.
Mild pre-eclampsia can often be managed with rest and medication
if the baby is close to term. Your doctor may recommend medications to: Lower your blood pressureReduce the risk of seizuresHelp fetal lung development in case of premature labor
If your home situation is stable and you live close to the hospital, your doctor may recommend that you rest at home in a quiet environment. Home treatment may include: Taking frequent blood pressure readingsGetting plenty of restObtaining help to prepare meals, do housework, and care for family membersMonitoring your baby's health, which may include: Watching for fetal movementTracking kick countsFollow-up visits to monitor conditions inside the uterus
If pre-eclampsia is moderate or your home situation is not restful, the doctor may admit you to the hospital. Treatment may include: Lowering your blood pressure with medicationTaking medications to prevent eclampsiaMonitoring your baby's conditionMaking sure you get enough rest
To help reduce your chance of pre-eclampsia or other pregnancy complications: Get early and regular prenatal care. Early treatment of pre-eclampsia may prevent eclampsia.If you have chronic high blood pressure, keep it under control during pregnancy.If you have a chronic condition, like diabetes, keep it well managed.Get your doctor's approval before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications.Do not smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy.Eat regular, healthful meals, and take prenatal vitamins.
Ask your doctor if you should take a daily
supplement. In women who have a low calcium intake, supplementation may reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, and
Your doctor may recommend that you take aspirin to lower your risk of pre-eclampsia.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC)
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Last reviewed November 2016 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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