What are preeclampsia and eclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a certain type of high blood pressure that happens during pregnancy. The placenta (afterbirth) is the organ in your uterus (womb) that feeds the fetus (baby). Preeclampsia can cause the placenta to pull away from your uterus too early. This can cause your baby to be born too early. A baby born too early is more likely to have problems soon after birth.
Eclampsia is when preeclampsia causes you to have seizures (when your body moves and jerks out of your control) and sometimes causes blood and liver problems. These problems can be life-threatening to you and your baby.
Preeclampsia can start any time after the 20th week of pregnancy or even within the first few days after delivery
Untreated preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia
Common signs of preeclampsia are swelling near your eyes and hands and protein in your urine—doctors will check your urine for protein at each pregnancy visit
The best way to treat preeclampsia is to deliver your baby
Doctors usually don't know why preeclampsia and eclampsia happen. However, they're more likely to happen when a pregnant woman:
Is pregnant for the first time
Had preeclampsia before
Is pregnant with more than one baby (such as twins or triplets)
Is younger than 17 or older than 35
What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?
You might not have any symptoms. Or you might have:
Swelling in your hands, feet, and face (especially around your eyes)
Tiny red dots on your skin
Very bad preeclampsia can cause:
Headaches—call your doctor if you have a new headache that doesn’t get better within 24 hours or after taking acetaminophen
Belly pain and throwing up
Seizures (sudden, jerking motions)—this means you now have eclampsia
How can doctors tell if I have preeclampsia?
Doctors suspect preeclampsia based on your symptoms and if you have:
Protein in your urine
Doctors do blood tests and urine tests to tell for sure and figure out how bad it is. They’ll also check your baby’s heart rate, movements, and breathing.
How do doctors treat preeclampsia?
Treatment depends on how severe your preeclampsia is.
You'll probably stay in the hospital, at least at first
There, you'll stay in bed and be monitored closely until your baby grows enough to be delivered safely (around 36 weeks of pregnancy)
Doctors usually give you medicines to lower your blood pressure
If your blood pressure and other problems can be controlled, you may be able to go home but you'll have to rest and avoid stress
If preeclampsia develops near your due date, your doctor may give you medicine to start labor. You'll get an IV medicine (directly in your vein) called magnesium sulfate during labor to prevent seizures.
Very bad preeclampsia and eclampsia
You're hospitalized immediately
At the hospital, you'll be given IV magnesium sulfate to prevent or stop seizures
You may get IV medicine to lower your blood pressure
If you have seizures even after being given magnesium sulfate, you'll get another IV medicine to control seizures
Delivering the baby is the best way to stop very bad preeclampsia and eclampsia. You may need surgery to deliver your baby, called a cesarean section (C-section Cesarean Delivery (C-Section) A C-section is surgery to deliver your baby through a cut made in your belly and uterus. For a cesarean delivery, an incision is made in the abdomen and into the uterus. This incision is usually... read more ), which is the quickest way. If your cervix (the lower part of your uterus) is already opened enough for vaginal delivery to be quick, you may have a vaginal delivery.
You'll get magnesium sulfate for 24 hours and be closely monitored for 2 to 4 days in the hospital.
After returning home
You may need to take medicines to lower your blood pressure
You'll have a checkup at least every 1 to 2 weeks for the first few months after delivery
Your blood pressure may remain high for 6 to 8 weeks after delivery
If it remains high longer, the cause may be unrelated to preeclampsia