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Preeclampsia


Topic Overview

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is new high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It usually goes away after you give birth.

Not all high blood pressure is preeclampsia. In some women, blood pressure goes up very high in the second or third trimester. This is sometimes called gestational hypertension, and it can lead to preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia can be dangerous for the mother and baby. It can keep the baby from getting enough blood and oxygen. It also can harm the mother's liver, kidneys, and brain. Women with very bad preeclampsia can have dangerous seizures. This is called eclampsia.

What causes preeclampsia?

Experts don't know the exact cause.

Preeclampsia seems to start because the placenta doesn't grow the usual network of blood vessels deep in the wall of the uterus. This leads to poor blood flow in the placenta.

If your mother had preeclampsia while she was pregnant with you, you have a higher chance of getting it during pregnancy. You also have a higher chance of getting it if the mother of your baby's father had preeclampsia.

Already having high blood pressure when you get pregnant raises your chance of getting preeclampsia.

What are the symptoms?

Mild preeclampsia usually doesn't cause symptoms.

But preeclampsia can 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.

How is preeclampsia diagnosed?

Preeclampsia is usually found during a prenatal visit.

This is one reason why it's so important to go to all of your prenatal visits. You need to have your blood pressure checked often. During these visits, your blood pressure is measured. A sudden increase in blood pressure often is the first sign of a problem.

You also will have a urine test to look for protein, another sign of preeclampsia.

If you have high blood pressure, tell your doctor right away if you have a headache or belly pain. These signs of preeclampsia can occur before protein shows up in your urine.

How is it treated?

The only cure for preeclampsia is having the baby.

You may get medicines to lower your blood pressure and to prevent seizures.

You also may get medicine to help your baby's lungs get ready for birth.

Your doctor will try to deliver your baby when the baby has grown enough to be ready for birth. But sometimes a baby has to be delivered early to protect the health of the mother or the baby. If this happens, your baby will get special care for premature babies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about preeclampsia:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

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