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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

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