By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Pre-eclampsia can cause several complications that may lead to life threatening conditions for the mother as well as the developing baby. These complications can develop if preeclampsia is not diagnosed early and monitored closely.
Some of the complications of pre-eclampsia include:
Eclampsia - Eclampsia is a rare but serious complication of preeclampsia that refers to convulsions or fits. Eclampsia may develop any time after 20 weeks or 5 months of pregnancy. During the fit, the mother’s muscles stiffen and convulse or twitch repeatedly. This leads to locking of the jaw and jerky movements of the arms and legs. The mother is also at risk of losing consciousness. Convulsions may last up to a minute.
Usually, a mother can achieve a complete recovery after the fit. However, in cases of severe convulsions, there is a risk of residual brain damage. Death due to eclampsia is rare and is brought about by suffocation or severe brain damage. The unborn baby may also suffocate and die during the convulsions.
HELLP syndrome - This is a rare disorder that refers to liver damage and blood clotting and may occur before or immediately after delivery. The term HELLP stands for “hemolysis (breakdown of blood cells), “elevated liver enzymes” (a sign of liver damage) and “low platelet count” (leading to bleeding problems).
Stroke - Depletion of blood supply to the brain during seizures and due to high blood pressure may cause a brain hemorrhage and lead to stroke. Stroke may be life threatening.
Pulmonary edema or collection of fluids in the lungs
Renal failure or kidney damage
Babies may have to be delivered prematurely. This leads to several complications in the baby such as breathing difficulties or neonatal respiratory distress syndrome. The baby might also be stillborn or suffer from IUGR (intrauterine growth retardation).
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Feb 6, 2014