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Learning About Preeclampsia After Childbirth

What is preeclampsia?

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 treated, preeclampsia can harm you or your baby.

Severe preeclampsia can lead to dangerous seizures (eclampsia). When preeclampsia affects the liver, it can cause HELLP syndrome, a blood-clotting and bleeding problem. HELLP can come on quickly and can be dangerous. This is why your doctor or midwife checks you and your baby often.

Preeclampsia usually goes away after the baby is born. But symptoms may last or get worse after delivery. In rare cases, symptoms may not show up until days or even weeks after childbirth.

What are the symptoms?

Mild preeclampsia usually doesn't cause symptoms. But it may cause rapid weight gain and sudden swelling of the hands and face. Severe preeclampsia can cause symptoms such as a severe headache, vision problems, and trouble breathing. It also can cause belly pain. And you may urinate less than usual.

What can you expect after you've had preeclampsia?

In the hospital

After the baby and the placenta are delivered, preeclampsia usually starts to get better. Most people get better in the first few days after childbirth.

After having preeclampsia, you still have a risk of seizures for a day or more after childbirth. (In very rare cases, seizures happen later on.) So your doctor or midwife may have you take magnesium sulfate for a day or more to prevent seizures. You may also take medicine to lower your blood pressure.

When you go home

Your blood pressure will most likely return to normal a few days after delivery. Your doctor or midwife will want to check your blood pressure sometime in the first week after you leave the hospital.

High blood pressure sometimes continues after childbirth. But it usually returns to normal levels with time.

  • Take and record your blood pressure at home if your doctor or midwife tells you to.
    • Ask your doctor or midwife to check your blood pressure monitor to be sure that it is accurate and that the cuff fits you. Also ask your doctor or midwife to watch you use it, to make sure that you are using it right.
    • Don't eat, use tobacco products, or use medicine known to raise blood pressure (such as some nasal decongestant sprays) before you take your blood pressure.
    • Avoid taking your blood pressure if you have just exercised or if you're nervous or upset. Rest at least 15 minutes before you take your blood pressure.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you need help quitting.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Include plenty of foods high in calcium, such as dairy products, almonds, and dark leafy greens.

Long-term health

After you've had preeclampsia, you have an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. This may be because the same things that cause preeclampsia also cause heart and kidney disease.

To protect your health, work with your doctor on living a heart-healthy lifestyle and getting the checkups you need. Your doctor may also want you to check your blood pressure at home.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Share this information with your partner or a friend. They can help you watch for warning signs.

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have a seizure.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have chest pain.

Call your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of preeclampsia, such as:
    • Sudden swelling of your face, hands, or feet.
    • New vision problems (such as dimness, blurring, or seeing spots).
    • A severe headache.
  • Your blood pressure is very high, such as 160/110 or higher.
  • Your blood pressure is higher than your doctor or midwife told you it should be, or it rises quickly.
  • You have new nausea or vomiting.
  • You have pain in your belly or pelvis.
  • You gain weight rapidly.

Where can you learn more?

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