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


7-minute read

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a serious medical condition that can occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It typically causes high blood pressure and can affect several of your body organs, including the liver, kidney and brain. If left untreated, it can lead to serious problems for you or your baby.

Pre-eclampsia is the most common serious medical disorder that can occur during pregnancy. Mild pre-eclampsia can occur in up to 1 in 10 pregnancies, and severe pre-eclampsia in up to 1 in 100 pregnancies. Early detection and treatment are important to prevent life-threatening complications.

What risk factors may increase my chances of pre-eclampsia?

You might be at a higher risk of pre-eclampsia if you have had any of the following:

Pre-eclampsia may also be more common if you are:

  • over the age of 40
  • your first pregnancy
  • it has been more than 10 years since your last pregnancy
  • you are very overweight
  • your mother or sisters have had pre-eclampsia

What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia?

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

Women who have severe pre-eclampsia with high blood pressure may also experience kidney problems leading protein in the urine. Women with pre-eclampsia can also have the following symptoms:

  • sudden or rapid swelling of hands, face and feet
  • dizziness
  • headaches that don’t go away with simple pain killers
  • vision problems like flashing lights or spots in your eyes
  • severe pain below the ribs
  • heartburn that doesn’t go away with antacids
  • generally feel very unwell

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

How do I know if I have pre-eclampsia?

Your doctor or midwife will routinely check your blood pressure at every visit during your pregnancy to check that it is within the normal range. If your blood pressure is too high, your doctor may order a number of other tests to check for pre-eclampsia. This may include a urine test to check for protein, blood tests to check your kidney and liver function, and routine physical examinations to check your leg reflexes. Your baby will also be checked using an ultrasound to assess their growth and wellbeing, and heart rate monitoring using a cardiotocograph (CTG).

How is pre-eclampsia treated?

If your pre-eclampsia is mild or moderate, your doctor may recommend that you go to hospital for monitoring and start taking blood pressure medicines. You may also be prescribed treatment to prevent blood clots.

The only complete cure for pre-eclampsia is the birth of your baby. Your doctor may recommend inducing labour early to help manage your pre-eclampsia. Every pregnancy is unique, and your doctor will discuss with you what is best for you and your baby. You may be able to delay inducing labour for a while, or you may need to have your baby before the due date — the exact timing will depend on your particular situation, including how many weeks pregnant you are, your baby’s size and how severe your pre-eclampsia is.

Are there any complications from pre-eclampsia?

The majority of pregnant women with pre-eclampsia will not have any complications once they are on blood pressure medicines and give birth to their baby. However, some pregnant women may experience serious complications such as seizures, a stroke, kidney failure, liver failure or bleeding due to clotting problem.

Women who have had pre-eclampsia may be at an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or ongoing clotting disorders later in life. Your doctor may ask you to have more regular check-ups so you can receive treatment as early as possible if any of these disorders occur.

Many women feel overwhelmed or distressed after a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia. If this has been your experience, let your doctor or midwife know you need some support. You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby, 7 days a week on 1800 882 436 to speak with a maternal child health nurse.

Does pre-eclampsia affect my baby?

Pre-eclampsia can cause your placenta to not function as well. This can affect your baby and may cause abnormal growth or trigger a premature birth. If your baby is born early or smaller than expected, they may need to be cared for in a special care nursery.

How long will my pre-eclampsia last?

After your baby is born, many of your symptoms of pre-eclampsia will improve, but it can take several days, and sometimes longer, until everything returns to normal. Some of your blood tests may get worse for a day or two before they get better. High blood pressure can continue up to 3 months after your baby is born.

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 continue taking medicine for your blood pressure. It is important that you attend your 6-week postnatal check-up to make sure your blood pressure has returned to normal and there is no more protein in your urine.

Will I have pre-eclampsia with other pregnancies?

If you have had pre-eclampsia, you are at a risk of having pre-eclampsia again with any future pregnancies. Before planning any future pregnancies, meet with an obstetrician who can help manage blood pressure conditions during your pregnancy and will help reduce the chance of any complications.

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: May 2022

Back To Top

Need more information?

Toxaemia of pregnancy (pre-eclampsia) -

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

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

Complications of pregnancy

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

Read more on Rahma Health 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

What is a higher risk pregnancy?

A higher risk pregnancy means that you or your baby have more of a chance of problems during pregnancy. Learn what this means for you and your baby.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnant with twins? About twin pregnancy | Raising Children Network

Pregnant with twins? Twin pregnancy can have more complications, so you’ll need more check-ups. Here’s what to expect in your pregnancy and antenatal care.

Read more on website

Multiple pregnancy (triplets or more)

Learning you're pregnant with triplets or more can be a shock, but overall, most parents find having multiple babies to be a positive experience.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby 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.