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What should happen after a preeclampsia diagnosis?

Preeclampsia is a condition that afflicts pregnant women, typically after the 20th week. If you are expecting, it is crucial that your doctor watches you for signs of preeclampsia and that he or she takes the appropriate steps if you develop symptoms.

Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. You may develop swelling in your ankles, face, hands or entire body, and experience headaches, difficulty breathing, nausea and vision changes. If the condition remains untreated, it could cause complications for you and your baby. It may also progress into a more severe condition called eclampsia. Women with eclampsia develop seizures and are at an increased risk for stroke during pregnancy and post-labor. Between 30% and 50% of women who develop eclampsia also develop HELLP syndrome, or Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets.

Preeclampsia alone poses a severe risk to both you and your baby. Eclampsia and HELLP can become life-threatening. For these reasons, your health care provider should take immediate and decisive action if he or she suspects you have preeclampsia. Harvard Health Publishing details the next steps a health team should take after making a preeclampsia diagnosis.

Preeclampsia with and without severe features

If you have a manageable case of preeclampsia — meaning your blood pressure remains around 140/90 and your symptoms do not progress past mild swelling and/or protein in the urine — your doctor may hospitalize you so that he or she can manage your symptoms. The goal, at this point, is to keep your baby in long enough until he or she is mature enough to live outside of the womb.

If your case falls into the “severe” category, your health team’s goal is to prevent serious consequences. Those include eclampsia, liver and kidney failure, stroke and stillbirth. If your condition worsens despite your team’s best efforts, your doctor may recommend an early delivery.

Eclampsia

If you develop eclampsia, the overall goal is to protect you and your baby. Your health team may choose to do this by delivering your baby early and administer medication to prevent or manage eclamptic seizures.