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Health & Pregnancy

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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.

After having preeclampsia, you have a higher-than-average risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. This may be because the same things that cause preeclampsia also cause heart and kidney disease. To protect your health, work with your doctor on living a heart-healthy lifestyle and getting the checkups you need.

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