What is pre-eclampsia in pregnancy?

Learn all about pre-eclampsia, a condition experienced by 1 in 20 pregnant women.

In Pregnancy

    2-minutes read

    At a glance

    Pre-eclampsia is thought to be caused by the placenta not developing properly

    Only around 1 in 20 women are affected by it


    High blood pressure and protein in urine could be symptoms

    Your doctor might suggest delivering your baby slightly earlier

    You don’t hear about ‘pre-eclampsia’ in small talk much. Probably because it’s relatively uncommon and maybe also because it can be a pretty uncomfortable subject. If you’re pregnant or trying it’s worth knowing what to look out for - just in case. So we’ll take you through the symptoms, causes and treatment.

    First things first, pre-eclampsia is a medical condition that usually makes an appearance in the second half of pregnancy or sometimes after baby is born. It’s thought to be caused by the placenta not developing properly but the exact cause isn’t understood. Thankfully most cases are mild with no long-term effects.

    Causes of pre-eclampsia

    Pre-eclampsia is thought to be caused by the placenta not developing properly because it’s not getting enough blood. This also means baby is not receiving the blood it needs. Why the placenta might not develop fully isn’t known, but it’s probable that inherited changes in your genes play a part because the condition often runs in families. For more information about the causes speak to a healthcare professional.

    Symptoms of pre-eclampsia

    The most common signs of pre-eclampsia are:

    • high blood pressure
    • protein in urine

    You’re probably not going to spot those symptoms on your own at home. They should however be picked up through the routine urine and blood-pressure monitoring you have with your midwife. Pre-eclampsia tends to show up after the 20-week mark.

    If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, then seek medical help right away:

    • severe headaches
    • swollen face, hands, feet, ankles or neck
    • extreme pain just below your ribs
    • blurred vision

    Treatment of Pre-eclampsia

    If you do have pre-eclampsia you will be closely monitored and your midwife and doctor will then come up with a plan of action for you since the severity of pre-eclampsia can vary.

    Pre-eclampsia in pregnancy can cause a few complications and in rare instances these can be life-threatening, so to avoid the risk to mum and baby your doctor may suggest delivering baby few weeks early. It might not be what you had in mind but in some cases it’s the safest option for both mum and child. Try not to worry as lots of babies are delivered a bit early and are just fine. Once you deliver baby your blood pressure should go back to normal in a few days or even hours, but it could take months. Don’t worry though, you’ll be closely monitored to make sure everything’s ok.

    If pre-eclampsia is not treated it could lead to eclampsia which is much more serious for both mum and baby. It is rare, but it’s good to be aware of this and keep on top of it.

    If you’re worried you have any pre-eclampsia symptoms you should speak to your doctor or midwife so you can get advice. They may refer you to a hospital consultant for further tests and put together a plan of care. You can find more details on pre-eclampsia from the HSE.


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    Important advice to mothers

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. SMA® Nutrition fully supports this and continued breastfeeding, along with the introduction of complementary foods as advised by your healthcare professional.