Preeclampsia is high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy. It can be mild or severe, but the only treatment is to deliver the baby.
What to Expect
If you are past 37 weeks and your blood pressure is moderately elevated, your health care provider will likely advise you to deliver early. This may involve getting medicines to start (induce) labor or having a cesarean birth (C-section).
If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, the goal is to prolong your pregnancy as long as it is safe. Doing so allows your baby to develop longer inside of you.
- If your preeclampsia is severe, you may need to stay in the hospital to be monitored closely.
- If your preeclampsia is mild, you may be able to stay at home on bed rest. You will need to have frequent checkups and tests.
Bed Rest and Self-care at Home
When you are at home, your doctor will likely ask you to reduce your physical activity.
Your health care provider will tell you how much fluid to drink every day and what other changes you may need to make in your diet. You may need to limit your salt intake.
You may need to take medicines to lower your blood pressure. Take these medicines the way your provider tells you to.
DO NOT take any extra vitamins, calcium, aspirin, or other medicines without talking with your provider first.
Often, women who have preeclampsia do not feel sick or have any symptoms. Still, both you and your baby may be in danger. You need to stay on bed rest to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible. You may be uncomfortable and feel stressed, but bed rest will get easier to cope with as you get used to it.
Risks of Preeclampsia
There are risks to both you and your baby if you develop preeclampsia:
- The mother can have kidney damage, seizures, stroke, or bleeding in the liver.
- The baby can be very small (growth restriction), and at higher risk for the placenta to detach from the uterus (abruption) and for stillbirth.
Monitoring You and Your Baby
While you are home, your provider may ask you to:
- Measure your blood pressure
- Monitor how much fluid you drink
- Check your weight
- Monitor how often your baby moves and kicks
Your provider will teach you how to do these things.
You will need frequent visits with your provider to make sure you and your baby are doing well. You will likely have:
- Visits with your provider once a week or more
- Ultrasounds to monitor the size and movement of your baby, and fluid around your baby
- A nonstress test to check how your baby is doing
- Blood or urine tests
When to Call the Doctor
Call your health care provider right away if you:
- Have swelling in your hands, face, or eyes (edema)
- Suddenly gain weight over 1 or 2 days, or you gain more than 2 pounds in a week
- Have a headache that does not go away or becomes worse
- Are not urinating very often
- Have nausea and vomiting
- Have vision changes, such as you cannot see for a short time, see flashing lights or spots, are sensitive to light, or have blurry vision
- Feel light-headed or faint
- Have pain in your belly below your ribs
- Have pain in your right shoulder
- Have problems breathing
- Bruise easily
Toxemia - self-care; PIH - self-care; Pregnancy-induced hypertension - self-care
Sibai BM. Hypertension. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 35.
Update Date 11/19/2014
Updated by: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.