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What are the risks of preeclampsia & eclampsia to the mother?

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Risks During Pregnancy

Preeclampsia during pregnancy is mild in 75% of cases.1 However, a woman can progress from mild to severe preeclampsia or full eclampsia very quickly―even in a matter of days―especially if she is not treated. Both preeclampsia and eclampsia can cause serious health problems for the mother and infant.

Preeclampsia affects the placenta as well as the mother's kidneys, liver, brain, and other organ and blood systems. The condition could lead to a separation of the placenta from the uterus (referred to as placental abruption), preterm delivery, and pregnancy loss. In some cases, preeclampsia can lead to organ failure or stroke. In severe cases, preeclampsia can develop into eclampsia, which can lead to seizures. Seizures in eclampsia cause a woman to lose consciousness, fall to the ground, and twitch uncontrollably.2 If not treated, 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

Risks After Pregnancy

In uncomplicated preeclampsia, the mother's high blood pressure and increased protein in the urine usually resolve within 6 weeks of the infant's birth. Studies, however, have shown that women who have had preeclampsia are four times more likely to develop hypertension and twice as likely to develop ischemic heart disease (reduced blood supply to the heart muscle, which can cause heart attacks), a blood clot in a vein, and stroke.5

Less commonly, mothers who had preeclampsia during pregnancy could experience permanent damage to their organs. Preeclampsia could lead to kidney and liver damage or fluid in the lungs.

  1. Sibai, B. M. (2004). Magnesium sulfate prophylaxis in preeclampsia: Lessons learned from recent trials. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 190, 1520–1526. [top]
  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2012). Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from [top]
  3. Preeclampsia Foundation. (2012). FAQs. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from External Web Site Policy [top]
  4. Lim, K.-H., & Ramus, R. M. (2011). Preeclampsia. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from External Web Site Policy [top]
  5. Bellamy, L., Casas, J. P., Hingorani, A. D., et al. (2007). Pre-eclampsia and risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer in later life: Systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal, 335, 974. [top]

Last Reviewed: 06/18/2013
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