Pre-eclampsia is only mild in most cases, but it can cause serious problems if left untreated so should always be carefully monitored.
Pre-eclampsia most commonly presents late in the pregnancy, after week 34. It is not entirely clear why some pregnant women get it, and further research is being conducted. However, there is strong evidence that it is caused by hypersensitivity to particles from the foetus and placenta. Pre-eclampsia is a common cause of preterm birth and abnormal foetal development.
How pre-eclampsia is detected
If pre-eclampsia is discovered before blood pressure has risen too high and before the child is too severely affected, there are unlikely to be complications.
• Pregnant woman regularly have their urine tested and their blood pressure measured by the midwife. The tests are performed to find out whether there is protein in the urine and whether the woman's blood pressure is stable and normal.
• If the midwife suspects pre-eclampsia, the pregnant woman is referred to a doctor. Various tests and an ultrasound scan are performed to make an accurate diagnosis and determine whether and what therapy is necessary.
• The doctor decides whether a check-up visit is sufficient or whether the patient should be hospitalised for closer monitoring.
• When pre-eclampsia is diagnosed, the woman is usually given sick leave so she can rest.
Symptoms of pre-eclampsia
• Protein in the urine
• High blood pressure - over 140/90
• Oedema – swollen hands, feet and face
• Sudden significant weight gain
• Vision problems, such as flashes
• Pain in upper abdomen, back or below ribcage
Factors that increase risk of pre-eclampsia
• High blood pressure
• If you have had pre-eclampsia before
• If mother or sister has had pre-eclampsia
• Underlying kidney disorder
• Immune-related illness
• Pregnancy with multiple babies
• Assisted reproductive treatment, e.g. with IVF or donor eggs
Treatment of pre-eclampsia
The first step in treating pre-eclampsia is to have the pregnant woman lie down and avoid all forms of stress to lower her blood pressure.
It is also important to follow recommendations and go for follow-up visits to avoid becoming seriously ill.
If the patient's blood pressure is too high, she can be given a medication. In that case the patient is usually hospitalised.
In severe cases, it may be necessary to deliver the baby early.
Read more about induced labour or C-section.
After the delivery, the mother usually regains her health within a week
After the baby is born, the mother's blood pressure and urine usually return to normal and the swelling subsides. Most mothers make a complete recovery within a week. It is important to continue monitoring the mother's blood pressure for a while to make sure it remains stable.
The most common symptoms of pre-eclampsia are high blood pressure and protein in the urine. These symptoms are likely to go unnoticed until your check-up at the maternity clinic.