Pre-eclampsia is new high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most often, it starts near the end of pregnancy. It usually goes away after childbirth. In rare cases, it is first noted right after childbirth.
Pre-eclampsia can be dangerous. When it is severe, it can cause seizures (eclampsia) or liver or kidney damage. When the liver is affected, some women get HELLP syndrome, a blood-clotting and bleeding problem. HELLP can come on quickly and can be deadly. This is why your doctor checks you and your baby often.
Mild pre-eclampsia usually doesn't cause symptoms. But pre-eclampsia can cause rapid weight gain and sudden swelling of the hands and face.
Severe pre-eclampsia does cause symptoms. It can cause a very bad headache and trouble seeing and breathing. It also can cause belly pain. You may also urinate less than usual.
If you have new pre-eclampsia symptoms after you go home from the hospital, call your doctor or nurse call line right away.
After the baby and the placenta are delivered, pre-eclampsia usually starts to improve. Most women get better in the first few days after childbirth.
After having pre-eclampsia, you still have a risk of seizures for a day or more after childbirth. (Very rarely, seizures happen later on.) So your doctor may have you take magnesium sulfate for a day or more to prevent seizures. You may also take medicine to lower your blood pressure.
Your blood pressure will most likely return to normal a few days after delivery. Your doctor will want to check your blood pressure sometime in the first week after you leave the hospital.
Some women still have high blood pressure 6 weeks after childbirth. But most return to normal levels over the long term.
After you have had pre-eclampsia, you have a higher-than-average risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. This may be because the same things that cause pre-eclampsia 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 call line 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.
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Current as of: March 16, 2017
John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics
& Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Jennifer Merchant, MD - Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine & William M. Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine
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