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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.



The cause of pre-eclampsia is unknown.

Pre-eclampsia Risk

Pre-eclampsia is more common in African-American women 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
  • Obesity
  • Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome

Pre-eclampsia 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

Diagnosing Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia 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

Treatments for Pre-eclampsia

Treating pre-eclampsia early can prevent its progression to eclampsia, which results in seizures.

Delivery of the Baby

The only way to cure pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby. The decision for delivery depends upon 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

Home Treatment

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 with the goal of:

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

Steps to Prevent Pre-eclampsia

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.


Call one of our prenatal clinic locations.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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