The more severe your preeclampsia and the earlier it occurs in your pregnancy, the greater the risks for you and your baby. Preeclampsia may require induced labor and delivery. Surgical delivery (cesarean section or C-section) isn't always advantageous unless other problems are present, such as a baby in breech presentation, or if a speedy delivery is necessary. If you have severe preeclampsia or you're at less than 30 weeks gestation, a C-section may be necessary.
Complications of preeclampsia may include:
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- Lack of blood flow to the placenta. Preeclampsia affects the arteries carrying blood to the placenta. If the placenta doesn't get enough blood, your baby may receive less oxygen and fewer nutrients. This can lead to slow growth, low birth weight or preterm birth. Prematurity can lead to breathing problems for the baby.
- Placental abruption. Preeclampsia increases your risk of placental abruption, in which the placenta separates from the inner wall of your uterus before delivery. Severe abruption can cause heavy bleeding and damage to the placenta, which can be life-threatening for both you and your baby.
- HELLP syndrome. HELLP — which stands for hemolysis (the destruction of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count — syndrome can rapidly become life-threatening for both you and your baby. Symptoms of HELLP syndrome include nausea and vomiting, headache, and upper right abdominal pain. HELLP syndrome is particularly dangerous because it represents damage to several organ systems. On occasion, it may develop suddenly, even before high blood pressure is detected.
- Eclampsia. When preeclampsia isn't controlled, eclampsia — which is essentially preeclampsia plus seizures — can develop. Symptoms that suggest imminent eclampsia include upper right abdominal pain, severe headache, vision problems and change in mental status, such as decreased alertness. Because eclampsia can have serious consequences for both mom and baby, delivery becomes necessary, regardless of how far along the pregnancy is.
- Cardiovascular disease. Having preeclampsia may increase your risk of future heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease. The risk is even greater if you've had preeclampsia more than once or you've had a preterm delivery. To minimize this risk, after delivery try to maintain your ideal weight, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, and don't smoke.
- Hypertension in pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 2013. http://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Task_Force_and_Work_Group_Reports/Hypertension_in_Pregnancy. Accessed Dec. 12, 2013.
- August P, et al. Preeclampsia: Clinical features and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 16, 2013.
- Vest AR, et al. Hypertension in pregnancy. Cardiology Clinics. 2012;30:407.
- Karumanchi SA, et al. Pathogenesis of preeclampsia. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 17, 2013.
- Kim YJ. Pathogenesis and promising non-invasive markers for preeclampsia. Obstetrics and Gynecology Science. 2013;56:2.
- Deak TM, et al. Hypertension and pregnancy. Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America. 2012;30:903.
- Norwitz ER, et al. Preeclampsia: Management and prognosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 16, 2013.
- Bushnell C, et al. Guidelines for the prevention of stroke in women: A statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. In press. Accessed Feb. 10, 2014.
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