Hartford Hospital

Conditions In Full

Search for

Pre-eclampsia

(Toxemia of Pregnancy; Pregnancy-induced Hypertension; Preeclampsia)

Pronounced: pre-ee-clamp'-see-ah
En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Pre-eclampsia is a problem that occurs in some women during pregnancy. Blood pressure increases and protein appears in the urine. This usually occurs during the second half of pregnancy.

Cardiovascular System and Kidneys

Woman with BP
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

The cause of pre-eclampsia is unknown.

Risk Factors

Pre-eclampsia is more common in African-American women over, and in women aged 40 years and older. Factors that may increase your chance of getting pre-eclampsia include:

  • Pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy
  • First pregnancy
  • Family history, such as a mother and sister who also had the condition
  • Carrying multiple babies such as twins
  • Chronic high blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight or obese
  • Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome

Symptoms

Women with pre-eclampsia may have no symptoms. It is important to see your doctor regularly during pregnancy to detect problems early.

In women with symptoms, pre-eclampsia may cause:

  • Headaches
  • Bloating or water retention
  • Noticeably swollen ankles or feet, outside of normal swelling that occurs during pregnancy
  • Swelling of the face and upper body
  • Vision troubles
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Urinating less

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Preeclampsia is diagnosed if a pregnant women has high blood pressure and significant protein in her urine.

Tests may include:

  • Blood pressure measurement to see if blood pressure is 140/90 or higher
  • Urine tests to look for elevated protein levels
  • Blood tests—to check general body health and kidney and liver function

Treatment

Treating pre-eclampsia early can prevent its progression to eclampsia, which are seizures caused by severe pre-eclampsia.

Treatment may include:

The only way to cure pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby. The decision for delivery depends a combination of factors, such as:

  • How many weeks along you are in your pregnancy
  • Condition of the mother and baby
  • Severity of pre-eclampsia
  • Risk of other pregnancy complications

Labor may happen naturally or it may be induced. If there are life-threatening circumstances for either the mother or the baby, a cesarean section may be required. During labor, you may need medication to control blood pressure and prevent seizures.

Mild pre-eclampsia can often be managed with rest and medication the baby is close to term. Your doctor may recommend medications to:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of convulsions
  • Help fetal lung development in case the baby is born prematurely

If your home situation is stable and you live close to the hospital, your doctor may recommend that you rest at home in a quiet environment. Home treatment may include:

  • Taking frequent blood pressure readings
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Obtaining help to prepare meals, do housework, and care for family members

If pre-eclampsia is moderate or your home situation is not restful, the doctor may admit you to the hospital. Treatment may include:

  • Lowering your blood pressure with medication
  • Medications to prevent eclampsia
  • Monitoring your baby's condition
  • Making sure you get enough rest

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of developing pre-eclampsia or other pregnancy complications, take these steps:

  • Get early and regular prenatal care. Early treatment of pre-eclampsia may prevent eclampsia.
  • If you have chronic high blood pressure, keep it under control during pregnancy.
  • Get your doctor's approval before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications.
  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy.
  • Eat regular, healthful meals, and take prenatal vitamins.
  • Ask your doctor if you should take a daily calcium supplement. In women who have a low calcium intake, supplementation may reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, and premature birth.
  • Your doctor may recommend that you take aspirin to lower your risk of pre-eclampsia.
RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians

http://familydoctor.org

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

http://www.acog.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

http://www.sogc.org

Women's Health Matters

http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References:

High blood pressure during pregnancy. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq034.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20130314T1318525934. Accessed August 5, 2013.

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated May 28, 2013. Accessed August 5, 2013.

Pregnancy-induced hypertension. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/pregnancy-induced-hypertension.html. Updated August 2010. Accessed August 5, 2013.

What is preeclampsia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/issues/preg/preclamp.htm. Accessed August 5, 2013.

9/30/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Samuels-Kalow ME, Funai EF, Buhimschi C, et al. Prepregnancy body mass index, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, and long-term maternal mortality. Am J Obstet Gynecol . 2007;197:490.e1-6. Epub 2007 Aug 21.

7/6/2006 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Villar J, Abdel-Aleem H, Merialdi M, et al. World Health Organization randomized trial of calcium supplementation among low calcium intake pregnant women. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006;194:639-649.

7/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Kumar A, Devi SG, Batra S, Singh C, Shukla DK. Calcium supplementation for the prevention of pre-eclampsia. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2009;104:32-36.

8/6/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Bujold E, Roberge S, Lacasse Y, et al. Prevention of preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction with aspirin started in early pregnancy: a meta-analysis. Obstet Gynecol. 2010;116(2 Pt 1):402-14.

Last reviewed August 2013 by Andrea Chisholm; Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


 
CreativeChangePowered by: Creative Change, Inc.