Preeclampsia during pregnancy is mild in the majority of cases.1 However, a woman can progress from mild to severe preeclampsia or to full eclampsia very quickly―even in a matter of days. Both preeclampsia and eclampsia can cause serious health problems for the mother and infant.
Women with preeclampsia are at increased risk for damage to the kidneys, liver, brain, and other organ and blood systems. Preeclampsia may also affect the placenta. The condition could lead to a separation of the placenta from the uterus (referred to as placental abruption), preterm birth, and pregnancy loss or stillbirth. In some cases, preeclampsia can lead to organ failure or stroke.
In severe cases, preeclampsia can develop into eclampsia, which includes seizures. Seizures in eclampsia may cause a woman to lose consciousness and twitch uncontrollably.2 If the fetus is not delivered, these conditions can cause the death of the mother and/or the fetus.
Expecting mothers rarely die from preeclampsia in the developed world, but it is still a major cause of illness and death globally.3 According to the World Health Organization, preeclampsia and eclampsia cause 14% of maternal deaths each year, or about 50,000 to 75,000 women worldwide.4
In "uncomplicated preeclampsia," the mother's high blood pressure and other symptoms usually go back to normal within 6 weeks of the infant's birth. However, studies have shown that women who had preeclampsia are four times more likely to later develop hypertension (high blood pressure) and are twice as likely to later develop ischemic heart disease (reduced blood supply to the heart muscle, which can cause heart attacks), a blood clot in a vein, and stroke as are women who did not have preeclampsia.5
Less commonly, mothers who had preeclampsia could experience permanent damage to their organs, such as their kidneys and liver. They could also experience fluid in the lungs. In the days following birth, women with preeclampsia remain at increased risk for developing eclampsia and seizures.3,6
- Sibai, B. M. (2004). Magnesium sulfate prophylaxis in preeclampsia: Lessons learned from recent trials. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 190(6), 1520–1526.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2016). The Epilepsies and Seizures: Hope Through Research. Retrieved January 4, 2017, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Epilepsies-and-Seizures-Hope-Through
- Preeclampsia Foundation. (2013). FAQs. Retrieved June 7, 2016, from https://www.preeclampsia.org/health-information/faqs
- Lim, K.-H., Steinberg, G., & Ramus, R. M. (2016). Preeclampsia. Retrieved June 7, 2016, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1476919-overview
- Bellamy, L., Casas, J. P., Hingorani, A. D., & Williams, D. J. (2007). Pre-eclampsia and risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer in later life: Systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal, 335(7627), 974.
- Smith, M., Waugh, J., & Nelson-Piercy, C. (2013). Management of postpartum hypertension. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, 15(1), 45–50. Retrieved December 28, 2016, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-4667.2012.00144.x/pdf