What is Pre-eclampsia?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that affects pregnant women and causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine (proteinuria).

Pre-eclampsia usually develops during the second half of the pregnancy, from around 20 weeks, or shortly after the delivery of the baby. Pre-eclampsia is seen in around 5% of all pregnancies and may be severe in around 1 to 2% of cases.

Signs and symptoms of Pre-eclampsia

One of the earliest symptoms of Pre-eclampsia is high blood pressure and presence of protein in the urine (proteinuria). Both of these are detected during routine antenatal checkups, which  are checks carried out while a woman is pregnant.

Some noticeable symptoms of Pre-eclampsia include:

  • Swelling of the ankles, feet, hands and face due to fluid retention
  • Headache
  • Vision problems such as blurred vision
  • Pain below the ribs

Women who have previously suffered from Pre-eclampsia are at a greater risk of developing the condition during another pregnancy. The risk is also increased in first pregnancies, especially if the pregnant woman is aged over 40 years or expecting more than one baby.

Diagnosis and treatment

Assessment is usually carried out at a hospital. The patient is closely monitored and if there is any worsening of the symptoms, they may be advised to stay in hospital. If the symptoms are well controlled, patients may be kept under watchful observation at home.

The only way to resolve Pre-eclampsia is through delivery of the baby. The mother is therefore monitored until delivery is possible, which is normally at around 37 or 38 weeks, but may be earlier in severe cases. Labour may be induced or a caesarean section may be performed to deliver the baby.

Most Pre-eclampsia patients recover after delivery. However the mother is at risk of having convulsions called eclampsia. These can be life threatening for the mother and the baby, although they are uncommon.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 6, 2014

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