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Contact the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at UPMC-Magee Womens Hospital

To make an appointment with a maternal fetal medicine expert, call 412-641-6361.

What Is Preeclampsia and Eclampsia?

Doctors define preeclampsia as high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Blood pressure often returns to normal after delivery but sometimes it can stay elevated for weeks or even months.

It can be dangerous to mother and baby, reducing oxygen and blood flow to the baby.

For the mother, preeclampsia can cause damage to the:

  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Brain

Gestational hypertension is a mild form of high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It doesn't cause symptoms and usually isn't risky to mom or baby. But gestational hypertension can lead to preeclampsia in some women.

Severe preeclampsia can lead to dangerous seizures, a condition called eclampsia. Seizures greatly reduce the oxygen supply to the baby.

About 1 percent of women who have preeclampsia have these life-threatening seizures.

Preeclampsia causes

Preeclampsia may occur because the placenta doesn't grow the usual network of blood vessels and limits blood flow to the baby.

Certain factors increase your risk of getting preeclampsia:

  • Having high blood pressure before pregnancy.
  • Having a family history of preeclampsia.
  • Having preeclampsia during a prior pregnancy.
  • Being over 40.
  • Being pregnant with multiples.
  • Being overweight or obese.

Preeclampsia and eclampsia complications

Most women have mild high blood pressure during pregnancy, which carries fewer problems.

But, if left unchecked, it can lead to:

  • The placenta detaching from the uterus too early.
  • Preterm birth.
  • Stillbirth.

Most women with mild preeclampsia have no lasting effects and their blood pressure returns to normal within a few weeks or months after birth. You may be at a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease later in life.

Preeclampsia prevention

Managing your blood pressure before and during pregnancy may lower your risk of preeclampsia.

Ways to help manage blood pressure include:

  • Getting enough exercise.
  • Reducing sodium intake and eating plenty of fruits and veggies.
  • Staying at a healthy weight.

If you're at risk of getting preeclampsia, your doctor may suggest that you take a low-dose aspirin throughout pregnancy.

Why Choose UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital for Preeclampsia Care?

UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has:

  • Maternal fetal medicine experts on-site to consult and provide the best possible care for you and your baby.
  • The largest NICU in Pennsylvania. Our Level III unit provides high-level, specialized care if you have your baby early.
  • Combined expertise to ensure you and your baby receive the tailored care you need.
  • Specialized care after delivery to help manage high blood pressure from a team of maternal fetal medicine experts and cardiologists through our Bridges Postpartum Hypertension Program.

Preeclampsia Symptoms and Diagnosis

Common signs of preeclampsia include:

  • Swelling of the hands and feet.
  • Headache and/or vision changes.
  • Fast weight gain (2 pounds or more per week).
  • Bleeding from an injury that lasts longer than normal.

Preeclampsia diagnosis

Most often, your ob-gyn or midwife will diagnose preeclampsia during a prenatal visit. Your provider checks your blood pressure at each visit.

Though you may have some symptoms, your doctor will only confirm a diagnosis if you have any or all of the following:

  • Systolic blood pressure over 140 and/or diastolic pressure over 90 occurs twice over 4 hours.
  • Systolic blood pressure reading over 160 and/or diastolic pressure over 110 signals severe preeclampsia.
  • High levels of protein in your urine.

Preeclampsia Treatment

The only way to cure preeclampsia or eclampsia is to give birth. Your doctor will wait to deliver as long as possible to keep you both safe.

Keeping a close eye on your BP

If you have mild preeclampsia, your doctor will likely keep a close watch on you and ask you to reduce your activity.

Expectant management of preeclampsia

For moderate or quickly worsening preeclampsia, your doctor may admit you to the hospital.

The goal is to deliver your baby as close to term as possible.

They might also give you medicine to try to lower your blood pressure and prevent seizures.


Severe or life-threatening preeclampsia will require us to deliver your baby early.

Your doctor will put this off as long as they can.

They might give your baby medicine to speed up lung development for a healthier, safer delivery.

As long as you and your baby are both stable, you can have a vaginal delivery if you choose. If your baby has trouble handling contractions or your preeclampsia quickly gets worse, then you may need an emergency C-section.

After giving birth

You're still at an increased risk of seizures for 24 to 48 hours after delivery if you had moderate to severe preeclampsia.

Your doctor may continue to give you magnesium sulfate, a drug that stops or prevents seizures.

Your blood pressure may be back to normal within a few days of giving birth. But it can take as long as several weeks to months for some women. Sometimes you will need to continue taking blood pressure medication during this time.

Postpartum Preeclampsia

Some women can develop preeclampsia after they deliver their baby, even if they did not have problems with blood pressure during their pregnancy. For some women, this doesn't develop until after they leave the hospital. If this happens, you may need to be readmitted to have your blood pressure treated, and sometimes to receive medication to help prevent seizures.

You should continue to watch for signs andy symptoms of preeclampsia for the first few weeks after delivery. Contact your doctor if you notice any symptoms.