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Preeclampsia - What Happens

Preeclampsia can be mild or severe. It may get worse gradually or rapidly. It affects your blood pressure, placenta, liver, blood, kidneys, and brain.

It's very important to get treatment, because both you and your baby could suffer life-threatening problems involving your:

  • Blood pressure. The blood vessels increase their resistance against blood flow, increasing blood pressure. Very high blood pressure keeps your baby from getting enough blood and oxygen. Also, blood volume doesn't increase as much as it should during pregnancy. This can affect the baby's growth and well-being.
  • Placenta. The blood vessels of the placenta don't grow deep into the uterus as they should. And they don't widen as they normally would. This makes them unable to provide normal blood flow to the baby.
  • Liver. Poor blood flow to the mother's liver can cause liver damage. Liver impairment is related to the life-threatening HELLP syndrome, which requires emergency medical treatment.
  • Kidneys. When affected by preeclampsia, the kidneys can't work as well as they should to remove waste and extra water.
  • Brain. Vision impairment, persistent headaches, and seizures (eclampsia) can develop. Eclampsia can lead to maternal coma and fetal and maternal death. This is why women with preeclampsia are often given medicine to prevent eclampsia.
  • Blood. Low platelet levels in the blood are common with preeclampsia. In rare cases, a potentially life-threatening blood-clotting and bleeding problem develops along with severe preeclampsia.1 This condition is called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). After delivery, DIC goes away. In the meantime, you may be given a medicine (clotting factor), blood transfusion, or platelet transfusion.

Delivery of the baby and placenta is the only "cure" for preeclampsia. If your condition becomes dangerous enough that delivery is necessary but you don't go into labor, your doctor will induce labor or deliver the baby with surgery (cesarean section).

Unless you have chronic high blood pressure, your blood pressure should return to normal in a few days or weeks. In severe cases, this can take 6 or more weeks.

The infant

The earlier in the pregnancy that preeclampsia begins and the more severe it becomes, the greater the risk of preterm birth, which can cause problems for the newborn.

An infant born before 37 weeks may have difficulty breathing because of immature lungs (respiratory distress syndrome).

A newborn affected by preeclampsia may also be smaller than normal. This is because of inadequate nutrition from poor blood flow through the placenta.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: January 21, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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