By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Pre-eclampsia can be successfully treated if it is diagnosed early and the patient is closely monitored for symptoms, complications and deterioration. Diagnosis is commonly made during the routine checkups that are carried out while a woman is pregnant called antenatal checks. In the case of pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure is usually identified and urine is found to contain protein.
Diagnosis of pre-eclampsia
Measurement of blood pressure – Blood pressure is measured using a pressure gauge called a sphygmomanometer. High blood pressure during pregnancy is usually defined as a blood pressure over 140/90 mm Hg.
Urine examination – A urine sample is checked using a dipstick, which is a strip of paper covered in chemicals that changes colour if protein is present in the urine. If the dipstick test is positive for protein, the exact amount of protein may be checked using laboratory tests. Urine samples taken over 24 hours may be assessed to give the total daily protein excretion.
Treatment of pre-eclampsia
The only way of completely curing preeclampsia is for the baby to be delivered. In addition, medications are administered and the mother is closely monitored. Some of the treatment approaches include:
The administration of blood pressure lowering medications such as labetalol, nifedipine or methyldopa.
Seizures are treated and prevented using antiepileptic medications.
The amount of protein, salt, fluid and calories in the diet is regulated.
The baby is delivered as soon as is possible, which is usually around 37 or 38 weeks, but may be earlier in severe cases. Labour may be artificially induced or a caesarean section performed. The mother may be given blood pressure lowering medications while she is waiting for the baby to be delivered. If the preeclampsia becomes severe before the 37th week, an earlier delivery may be necessary. In these cases, the baby is classified as premature and may need to stay in hospital to receive regular monitoring in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Magnesium sulphate may be administered by injection to temporarily stabilize women with preeclampsia to forestall seizures. This allows a window of time for the administration of steroids which reduce the baby’s risk of suffering from birth complications, in particular breathing difficulties and bleeding. The steroids can take up to 24 hours to work.
Post-partum eclampsia is rare and may occur up to 6 weeks after delivery.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Feb 6, 2014