High blood pressure & preeclampsia

High blood pressure during pregnancy may be a one-off event or it may indicate a more severe condition called preeclampsia (sometimes spelt pre-eclampsia). High blood pressure should always be investigated. 

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is also called hypertension. In pregnancy it can develop because of the pregnancy or you may already have high blood pressure. It may occur after 20 weeks gestation and be a one-off event, or be part of a more complex condition such as preeclampsia. Treatment includes rest, monitoring your blood pressure, monitoring your baby and your wellbeing and may require medication. If your blood pressure doesn’t settle then you may need to have your baby earlier.


Preeclampsia is one of the more common complications of pregnancy and can happen at any time during the second half of pregnancy or the first few days after the birth.

The signs of preeclampsia are high blood pressure, protein in urine and sudden excessive swelling of the face, hands and feet. Sudden blurred vision is also a symptom. It is also possible to have preeclampsia without having any symptoms at all.

Preeclampsia can cause circulation problems, which can affect the blood supply to the placenta and limit the baby’s supply of nutrients and oxygen. This can reduce the baby’s ability to grow.

Preeclampsia affects one in ten pregnancies and for most women the illness remains mild. In some cases it can become serious and affect other parts of the body such as liver and blood clotting system (HELLP syndrome) and can also lead to convulsions (eclampsia).

Preeclampsia can get worse very quickly, which is dangerous for both mother and baby. Women with preeclampsia are closely monitored. In the case of severe preeclampsia, you will need to be monitored in hospital and may have to have your baby early.  

HELLP syndrome is the severe form of preeclampsia and requires urgent medical attention for both the mother and baby.

Treating preeclampsia

Drugs may be used to control your blood pressure and prevent convulsions. However, if your preeclampsia becomes severe, the cure is to deliver the baby and placenta. This could mean that your baby is born very early and may be at risk of developing complications due to prematurity.

Future pregnancies and preeclampsia

The risk of having preeclampsia again in future pregnancies is usually small. Your risk will increase if you have other medical disorders such as hypertension, kidney disease, diabetes, or lupus.

The following symptoms could possibly indicate preeclampsia:

  • persistent headaches that are unrelieved by over-the-counter medications
  • blurred vision
  • significant or sudden swelling of hands, face or feet.


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