Pre-eclampsia can only be cured by delivering the baby. If you have pre-eclampsia, you'll be closely monitored until it's possible to deliver the baby.
Once diagnosed, you'll be referred to a hospital specialist for further assessment and any necessary treatment.
You may be able to return home afterwards and attend regular (possibly daily) follow-up appointments.
You may be admitted to hospital for monitoring and treatment if there are any concerns for you or your baby.
Monitoring in hospital
While you're in hospital, you and your baby will be monitored by:
- having regular blood pressure checks to identify any abnormal increases
- having regular urine samples taken to measure protein levels
- having various blood tests – for example, to check your kidney and liver health
- having ultrasound scans to check blood flow through the placenta, measure the growth of the baby, and how much amniotic fluid there is
- electronically monitoring the baby's heart rate using a process called cardiotocography, which can detect any stress or distress in the baby
Medicine for high blood pressure
Medicine is recommended to help lower your blood pressure. These medicines reduce the likelihood of serious complications, such as stroke.
Some of the medicines used regularly in the UK include labetalol, nifedipine or methyldopa.
Of these medicines, only labetalol is specifically licensed for use in pregnant women with high blood pressure.
This means the medicine has undergone clinical trials that have found it to be safe and effective for this purpose.
But while methyldopa and nifedipine are not licensed for use in pregnancy, they can be used "off-label" (outside their licence) if it's felt the benefits of treatment are likely to outweigh the risks of harm to you or your baby.
These medicines have been used by doctors in the UK for many years to treat pregnant women with high blood pressure.
They're recommended as possible alternatives to labetalol in guidelines produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Your doctors may recommend one of them if they think it's the most suitable medicine for you.
If your doctors recommend treatment with one of these medicines, you should be made aware that the medicine is unlicensed in pregnancy and any risks should be explained before you agree to treatment, unless immediate treatment is needed in an emergency.
Anticonvulsant medicine may be prescribed to prevent fits if you have severe pre-eclampsia and your baby is due within 24 hours, or if you have had convulsions (fits).
They can also be used to treat fits if they occur.
Delivering your baby
In most cases of pre-eclampsia, having your baby at about the 37th to 38th week of pregnancy is recommended.
This is recommended because research suggests there's no benefit in waiting for labour to start by itself after this point.
Delivering the baby early can also reduce the risk of complications from pre-eclampsia.
If your condition becomes more severe before 37 weeks and there are serious concerns about the health of you or your baby, earlier delivery may be necessary.
Deliveries before 37 weeks are known as premature births and babies born before this point may not be fully developed.
You should be given information about the risks of both premature birth and pre-eclampsia so the best decision can be made about your treatment.
After the delivery
Although pre-eclampsia usually improves soon after your baby is born, complications can sometimes develop a few days later.
You may need to stay in hospital after the birth so you can be monitored.
Your blood pressure will be measured regularly and you may be offered medicine if it gets too high, if you are not taking medicine already.
Your baby may also need to be monitored and stay in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit if they're born prematurely.
These units have facilities that can replicate the functions of the womb and allow your baby to develop fully.
Once it's safe to do so, you'll be able to take your baby home.
You'll usually need to have your blood pressure checked regularly after leaving hospital, and you may need to continue taking medicine to lower your blood pressure for several weeks.
If you are still taking medicine, you should be offered an appointment with a doctor 2 weeks after you transfer from hospital care to community midwives. This is to check whether your treatment needs to be changed or stopped.
You should be offered a postnatal appointment 6 to 8 weeks after your baby is born to check your progress and decide if any treatment needs to continue. This appointment will usually be with your GP. This is separate from your 6-week postnatal check.
Page last reviewed: 28 September 2021
Next review due: 28 September 2024