Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Pre-eclampsia

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Pre-eclampsia is a complication of pregnancy.
  • Pre-eclampsia causes high blood pressure and can affect your kidneys, liver and brain.
  • Often there are no symptoms, so it’s important to have regular antenatal checks during pregnancy.

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a serious medical condition that can happen during pregnancy. It usually occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Pre-eclampsia causes high blood pressure and can affect several of your body organs, including your:

  • liver
  • kidneys
  • brain

If pre-eclampsia is not treated, it can lead to serious problems for you and your baby.

What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia?

Most women with pre-eclampsia do not have any symptoms. The condition is usually diagnosed during a routine antenatal appointment.

Symptoms of severe pre-eclampsia can include:

It is very important to see your doctor, midwife or pregnancy care provider if you have any of these symptoms during pregnancy..

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes pre-eclampsia?

The cause of pre-eclampsia is not completely clear, but there are factors that are known to increase the risk.

Your risk of getting pre-eclampsia is increased if you:

Your risk of pre-eclampsia is also increased if:

When should I see my doctor?

Make sure you see your doctor or midwife for your routine antenatal care visits.

It is very important to see your doctor, midwife or pregnancy care provider straight away if you have any symptoms of pre-eclampsia.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is pre-eclampsia diagnosed?

Your doctor or midwife will routinely check your blood pressure at every antenatal visit during your pregnancy.

If your blood pressure is high, they may organise some tests to check for pre-eclampsia. This may include:

Your baby will also be checked using:

How is pre-eclampsia treated?

If you have pre-eclampsia, your doctor may recommend that you go to hospital for rest and monitoring. You may also need treatment including:

You and your baby will be closely monitored while you are pregnant.

The only complete cure for pre-eclampsia is the birth of your baby. Your doctor may recommend delivering your baby early to manage severe pre-eclampsia.

Every pregnancy is unique, and your doctor will discuss with you what is best for you and your baby.

When considering the early delivery of your baby, your doctor will talk with you about the risks to your health and your baby’s health. They will take into account:

Do I still need treatment for pre-eclampsia after my baby is born?

After your baby is born, you are still at an increased risk of complications for the first few days.

You will usually stay in hospital and may need to keep taking medicine for your blood pressure. You may also need to limit your fluid intake after birth.

It’s important that you attend your 6-week postnatal check-up to make sure your blood pressure has returned to normal.

Can pre-eclampsia be prevented?

If you are at increased risk of pre-eclampsia, your doctor may recommend you take low-dose aspirin during pregnancy. Taking aspirin can help reduce your risk of pre-eclampsia.

Your doctor may also suggest you take calcium or vitamin D supplements.

It’s important to understand that no medicine completely prevents pre-eclampsia. Always check with your doctor or midwife before taking any medicines or supplements during pregnancy.

If you are at increased risk, your doctor or midwife will also recommend frequent check-ups.

Are there any complications from pre-eclampsia?

Some pregnant women may experience serious complications from pre-eclampsia.

HELPP syndrome is a type of severe pre-eclampsia that causes bleeding and liver problems.

Other complications of pre-eclampsia can include:

Women who have had pre-eclampsia may be at an increased risk of developing:

How can pre-eclampsia affect my baby?

Pre-eclampsia can cause your placenta to not function as well. This can affect your baby’s growth.

If you have severe pre-eclampsia, your baby may need to be born early (premature birth).

If your baby is born early or smaller than expected, they may need to be cared for in a special care nursery or neonatal intensive care unit.

Will I have pre-eclampsia with other pregnancies?

If you have had pre-eclampsia, you are at risk of having pre-eclampsia again with future pregnancies.

Before planning any future pregnancies, talk to your doctor or obstetrician.

Resources and support

Some women feel overwhelmed or distressed after a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia. If this is your experience, let your doctor or midwife know you need some support.

Australian Action on Pre-eclampsia has information on pre-eclampsia and offers support to people affected by pre-eclampsia.

Other languages

The Royal Women’s Hospital Victoria has information on high blood pressure and preeclampsia in languages other than English.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2023


Back To Top

Need more information?

Toxaemia of pregnancy (pre-eclampsia) - myDr.com.au

Pre-eclampsia, also known as pre-eclamptic toxaemia, or just toxaemia, occurs in pregnancy, causing problems for the baby and mother.

Read more on myDr website

Pre-eclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, very high blood pressure (severe hypertension) can cause complications for both you and your baby

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

High blood pressure in pregnancy

High blood pressure in pregnancy is a common medical problem that usually disappears after the birth. It may signal a serious condition called pre-eclampsia.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy at week 35

You'll probably be having lots of Braxton Hicks contractions by now. It's your body's way of preparing for the birth. They should stop if you move position.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy - preeclampsia - Better Health Channel

There is no evidence that preeclampsia is caused by emotional stress, working too hard or not getting enough rest.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Preeclampsia | SCHN Site

Managing and self-monitoring preeclampsia during pregnancy.

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Complications during pregnancy

Some women will experience complications such as bleeding, itching high blood pressure or severe vomiting during pregnancy that will require treatment.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Heart disease and pregnancy | Heart Foundation

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body. A woman’s blood volume increases by 30-50% over the course of her pregnancy. Labour and delivery exact a further toll on the body producing abrupt changes in blood flow and pressure, forcing the heart to work harder.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Headaches during pregnancy

Headaches are common at various stages of pregnancy. Find out what can help improve your symptoms, and when you should see your doctor.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Complications of pregnancy

Read this article to learn more about possible complications in pregnancy.

Read more on Rahma Health website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.