Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure disorder that can cause your organs not to work. It usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy, but it can also occur after your baby is born.

Your health care provider will diagnose you with preeclampsia if you have high blood pressure and problems with your organs.

Some pregnant people will not have any symptoms of preeclampsia, so it is important to have regular prenatal visits. To test for preeclampsia at each prenatal visit, staff will check your weight, blood pressure, and test for protein in your urine. If your health care provider is concerned that you may have preeclampsia, more tests may be done.

Risk factors for preeclampsia

About 1 in 25 people who are pregnant will have preeclampsia during pregnancy. You are at a higher risk for preeclampsia if:

  • you are pregnant for the first time
  • you are pregnant with more than one baby
  • you became pregnant using in vitro fertilization
  • you or a family member had preeclampsia during a pregnancy
  • you have high blood pressure
  • you are older than age 40
  • you are obese
  • you have certain medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or an autoimmune disease.

Depending on your risk factors, your health care provider may recommended that you start a daily low-dose (81 milligrams) aspirin to decrease your risk of preeclampsia with this pregnancy.  This is usually started between 12 and 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Complications of preeclampsia

Along with seizures (eclampsia), preeclampsia can also lead to HELLP syndrome. This condition is a medical emergency.

Preeclampsia, eclampsia, and HELLP syndrome can cause life-long problems and even death.

Having preeclampsia increases your risk of having it again with your next pregnancy.

Pregnant people who have preeclampsia have an increased risk of other conditions later in life. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

How to treat preeclampsia

Treatment depends on if you have any symptoms of severe preeclampsia.

The decision of when and how to deliver your baby depends on the risks to you and the health of your baby.

Preeclampsia without severe symptoms

In general, you will have more visits with your health care provider and more tests to check on your baby’s health. These tests may include:

  • blood pressure monitoring
  • laboratory tests
  • fetal monitoring
  • ultrasounds.

Preeclampsia with severe symptoms

You will usually be treated in the hospital. If you see a health care provider at a smaller hospital, you may be transferred to another hospital that provides high-risk pregnancy care.

If you are at least 34 weeks pregnant, your baby will most likely be delivered because of the risk of complications.

If you are less than 34 weeks pregnant and you and your baby are stable, treatment may include:

  • medicine to help your baby’s lungs mature
  • medicine to help reduce your blood pressure and help prevent seizures.

Source: Allina Health Patient Education, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, eighth edition, ob-ah-90026
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/06/2021