Understanding Pre-eclampsia

By October 4, 2017Gynaecology

Pre-eclampsia is condition characterised by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, swelling of the hands, face and feet, and severe fluid retention in women during and after pregnancy. It can happen at any time during the second half of pregnancy (roughly 20 weeks onwards) and just after childbirth.


Pre-eclampsia is a common complication associated with pregnancy. Here we take a look at the symptoms, risk factors, risks for your baby and treatment process.

Pre-eclampsia is the most common serious complication associated with pregnancy and is usually diagnosed during regular check-ups during pregnancy. Mild conditions can be monitored with blood pressure and urine tests at regular antenatal appointments, whereas more severe cases may need to be monitored in hospital. Pre-eclampsia usually goes away in the weeks to months after childbirth.

Pre-eclampsia Symptoms

High blood pressure and protein in the urine are the two initial symptoms of pre-eclampsia, and these will be detected during antenatal appointments. Despite having these symptoms, most women will feel fine, which is why antenatal checkups are so important.

As pre-eclampsia progresses it can cause problems with fluid retention, resulting in swelling of the hands, face, feet and ankles. While swelling of the feet and ankles is common during pregnancy, sudden or severe onset of these symptoms may indicate pre-eclampsia.

As the condition progresses, it can cause a number of symptoms, including:

• Headaches
• Blurry vision
• Lethargy and a general feeling of being unwell
• Pain just below the ribs
• Nausea and vomiting
• Shortness of breath

If left untreated pre-eclampsia can lead to more serious problems such as convulsions, HELLP syndrome (a liver and blood-clotting disorder), problems in the kidneys and brain, and stroke. If you notice any symptoms of pre-eclampsia, seek advice from your obstetrician or GP immediately!

Risk Factors For Pre-eclampsia

There are a few risk factors for pre-eclampsia. These include:

• A family history of pre-eclampsia
• Pre-existing hypertension (high blood pressure)
• First pregnancies with each partner
• Age – the risk is higher for very young women or women over 40
• Obesity
• Multiple pregnancy

Risks For Your Baby

During pregnancy, the placenta allows the passage of oxygen, waste and nutrients between you and your baby. However, pre-eclampsia can disrupt this flow, and in severe cases may result in issues with your baby’s growth due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Treating Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia can be managed with medication to control blood pressure. Women may also benefit from rest. Pre-eclampsia can get worse very quickly, and in this case the only cure is to deliver the baby and the placenta. Roughly 5 to 10 percent of pre-term deliveries in Australia are due to pre-eclampsia or its associated complications.

If you have any questions about your pregnancy, or would like to book an appointment, please get in touch today. Dr Bevan Brown is one of the most trusted obstetricians in the Hills District.

We understand that no two pregnancies are the same, so we’re there for you every step of the way, before, during and after. Personalised care and strong relationships with our patients is of utmost importance to us!