Preeclampsia is when a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week (late 2nd or 3rd trimester) of pregnancy.


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Alternative Names

Toxemia; Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)


The exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown. Possible causes include:

Risk factors include:


Often, women who have preeclampsia do not feel sick.

Symptoms of preeclampsia can include:

Note: Some swelling of the feet and ankles is considered normal during pregnancy.

Symptoms of severe preeclampsia include:

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam. This may show:

Blood and urine tests will be done. This may show:

Tests will also be done to:

The results of a pregnancy ultrasound, non-stress test, and other tests will help your doctor decide whether your baby needs to be delivered immediately.

Women who had low blood pressure at the start of their pregnancy, followed by a significant rise in blood pressure need to be watched closely for other signs of preeclampsia.


The only way to cure preeclampsia is to deliver the baby.

If your baby is developed enough (usually 37 weeks or later), your doctor may want your baby to be delivered so the preeclampsia does not get worse. You may receive medicines to help trigger labor, or you may need a c-section.

If your baby is not fully developed and you have mild preeclampsia, the disease can often be managed at home until your baby has a good chance of surviving after delivery. The doctor will probably recommend:

Sometimes, a pregnant woman with preeclampsia is admitted to the hospital so the health care team can more closely watch the baby and mother.

Treatment in the hospital may include:

You and your doctor will continue to discuss the safest time to deliver your baby, considering:

The baby must be delivered if there are signs of severe preeclampia, including:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Sign and symptoms of preeclampsia usually go away within 6 weeks after delivery. However, the high blood pressure sometimes get worse the first few days after delivery.

If you have had preeclampsia, you are more likely to develop it again in another pregnancy. However, it is not usually as severe as the first time.

If you have high blood pressure during more than one pregnancy, you are more likely to have high blood pressure when you get older.

Possible Complications

Rare but severe complications for the mother can include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of preeclampsia during your pregnancy.


There is no known way to prevent preeclampsia. It is important for all pregnant women to start prenatal care early and continue it through the pregnancy.


Sibai BM. Hypertension. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 35.

Review Date: 8/23/2012
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc. Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine.
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