The only cure for preeclampsia when it occurs during pregnancy is delivering the fetus. Treatment decisions need to take into account the severity of the condition and the potential for maternal complications, how far along the pregnancy is, and the potential risks to the fetus. Ideally, the health care provider will minimize risks to the mother while giving the fetus as much time as possible to mature before delivery.
If the fetus is at 37 weeks or later, the health care provider will usually want to deliver it to avoid further complications.
If the fetus is younger than 37 weeks, however, the woman and her health care provider may want to consider other options that give the fetus more time to develop, depending on how severe the condition is. A health care provider may consider the following treatment options:
- If the preeclampsia is mild, it may be possible to wait to deliver the infant. To help prevent further complications, the health care provider may ask the woman to go on bed rest (to try to lower blood pressure and increase the blood flow to the placenta).
- Close monitoring of the woman and her fetus will be needed. Tests for the mother might include blood and urine tests to see f the preeclampsia is progressing (such as tests to assess platelet counts, liver enzymes, kidney function, and urinary protein levels). Tests for the fetus might include ultrasound, heart rate monitoring, assessment of fetal growth, and amniotic fluid assessment.
- Anticonvulsive medication, such as magnesium sulfate, might be used to prevent a seizure.
- In some cases, such as with severe preeclampsia, the woman will be admitted to the hospital so she can be monitored closely. Treatment in the hospital might include intravenous medication to control blood pressure and prevent seizures or other complications as well as steroid injections to help speed up the development of the fetus's lungs.
When a woman has severe preeclampsia, the doctor will probably want to deliver the fetus as soon as possible. Delivery usually is suggested if the pregnancy has lasted more than 34 weeks. If the fetus is less than 34 weeks, the doctor will probably prescribe corticosteroids to help speed up the maturation of the lungs.1
In some cases, the doctor must deliver the fetus prematurely, even if that means likely complications for the infant because of the risk of severe maternal complications The symptoms of preeclampsia usually go away within 6 weeks of delivery.2
Eclampsia—the onset of seizures in a woman with preeclampsia—is considered a medical emergency. Immediate treatment, usually in a hospital, is needed to stop the mother’s seizures; treat blood pressure levels that are too high; and deliver the infant.
Magnesium sulfate (a type of mineral) may be given to treat active seizures and prevent future seizures. Antihypertensive medications may be given to lower the blood pressure.
The only cure for gestational eclampsia is to deliver the fetus.
HELLP syndrome, a special type of severe preeclampsia, can lead to serious complications for the mother, including liver failure and death, as well as the fetus. The health care provider may consider the following treatments after a diagnosis of HELLP syndrome:
- Delivery, particularly if the pregnancy is 34 weeks or later
- Hospitalization to provide intravenous medication to control blood pressure and prevent seizures or other complications as well as steroid injections to help speed up the development of the fetus's lungs.3
- March of Dimes. (2010). Your Premature Baby. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from http://www.marchofdimes.com/baby/premature_indepth.html [top]
- Sibai, B. M. (2012). Hypertension. In S. G. Gabbe, J. R. Niebyl, J. L. Simpson, & M. B. Landon (Eds.), Obstetrics: Normal and problem pregnancies (6th ed.). Philadelphia: Saunders. [top]
- Haram, K., Svendsen, E., & Abildgaard, U. (2009). The HELLP syndrome: Clinical issues and management. A Review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 9. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-9-8. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2393-9-8.pdf (PDF - 465 KB) [top]