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Pre-eclampsia means that your blood pressure during pregnancy is higher than usual. You may also have other serious symptoms.
Pre-eclampsia can be dangerous. When it is severe, it can cause seizures (eclampsia) or liver or kidney damage. When it affects the liver, it can cause 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.
Pre-eclampsia usually occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most often, it starts near the end of pregnancy and goes away after childbirth. But symptoms may last a few weeks or more and can get worse after delivery. Rarely, symptoms of pre-eclampsia don't show up until days or even weeks after childbirth.
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.
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 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.
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:
Call your doctor, midwife, or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor, midwife, or nurse call line if:
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Current as of: February 23, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & William Gilbert MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine
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