Preeclampsia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

It is a complication of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and damage to other organs.

It usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a woman whose blood pressure has been normal. Even a slight increase in blood pressure can be a sign of preeclampsia.

If left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious or even fatal problems.

The symptoms

Preeclampsia sometimes develops without symptoms. Monitoring blood pressure is an important part of prenatal care because the first sign of preeclampsia is commonly an increase in blood pressure.

Other signs and symptoms of preeclampsia may include:

  • Excess protein in the urine (proteinuria) or additional signs of kidney problems.
  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Decrease in diuresis.
  • Decreased levels of platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia).
  • Liver failure.
  • Difficulty breathing, caused by fluid in the lungs.

The sudden increase in weight and swelling (edema) – especially in the face and hands – often accompanies preeclampsia. But these things also happen in many of the normal pregnancies, so they are not considered signs of preeclampsia.


The exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown. Experts believe it begins in the placenta – the organ that nourishes the fetus during pregnancy.

At the beginning of pregnancy, new blood vessels develop and evolve efficiently to send blood to the placenta.

In women with preeclampsia, it does not appear that these blood vessels can develop properly. They are narrower than normal blood vessels and react differently to hormonal signaling, which limits the amount of blood that can flow through them.

Treatments and medications for preeclampsia

Childbirth is the only cure for preeclampsia. Of course, if it is too early in pregnancy, delivery may not be the best for the baby.

If a woman is diagnosed with preeclampsia, the doctor will let her know how often she will have to return for prenatal visits – probably more often than what is normally recommended for pregnancy.

You will also need more frequent blood tests, ultrasounds, and effortless tests what you would expect in a pregnancy without complications.

The drugs

A possible treatment for preeclampsia may include:

The medications recommended by doctors to lower blood pressure. Blood pressure around 140/90 is usually not treated.

Bed rest

Bed rest is recommended routinely for women with preeclampsia. But research has not shown a benefit from this practice, and may increase the risk of blood clots.

For most women, bed rest is no longer recommended.