Postpartum Preeclampsia

Overview

What is postpartum preeclampsia?

Postpartum preeclampsia is a rare but serious condition related to high blood pressure after you give birth. It’s most common within 48 hours of delivery but can occur up to six weeks after your baby is born. Postpartum preeclampsia can lead to strokes, seizures and other complications if not promptly treated.

Postpartum preeclampsia is different than preeclampsia, a condition that occurs while you’re pregnant. Postpartum preeclampsia only happens after your baby is born. Even people who have never had high blood pressure or preeclampsia can get postpartum preeclampsia.

If you have symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia, you need immediate medical attention. Once diagnosed and treated, the prognosis for a full recovery is very good.

When does postpartum preeclampsia start?

Most people develop symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia within 48 hours of childbirth. However, the condition can develop up to six weeks after delivery.

What are the risk factors for postpartum preeclampsia?

Certain factors increase your risk of getting postpartum preeclampsia. If you have any of the following conditions, you may be at higher risk:

Symptoms and Causes

What are the signs of postpartum preeclampsia?

There are several symptoms that people who have just given birth might experience if they have postpartum preeclampsia. These include:

  • High blood pressure (140/90 mmHg or higher).
  • High levels of protein in your urine (proteinuria).
  • Headache (often severe).
  • Changes in vision like blurred vision or light sensitivity.
  • Swelling of your face, hands, feet or limbs.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Abdominal pain, usually near your ribs.
  • Decreased urination.
  • Rapid weight gain.
  • Shortness of breath.

If you’ve recently given birth and are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical care. Postpartum preeclampsia can have serious consequences if not treated.

What causes postpartum preeclampsia?

The exact cause is unknown. Healthcare providers know that certain factors increase your risk. Be sure to share your medical history with your provider, attend all prenatal and postnatal appointments and discuss any irregular symptoms you’re having. This can help your provider detect postpartum preeclampsia.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is postpartum preeclampsia diagnosed?

If your healthcare provider suspects you might have postpartum preeclampsia, they might perform the following tests:

  • Blood pressure check.
  • Blood tests to do a platelet count and check the function of your liver and kidneys.
  • Urinalysis to check your urine for protein.
  • Brain scan to look for possible brain damage if you have had a seizure.

Management and Treatment

How is postpartum preeclampsia treated?

If your healthcare provider determines you have postpartum preeclampsia, they may prescribe the following treatments:

  • Blood pressure medicine to lower your pressure levels.
  • Antiseizure medicine, such as magnesium sulfate, to prevent seizures (one of the most common risks of postpartum preeclampsia).
  • Anticoagulant (blood thinner) medications to reduce the risk of blood clots.

Let your healthcare provider know if you’re breastfeeding (chestfeeding) so they can advise whether the medications are safe for your baby.

Does postpartum preeclampsia go away on its own?

No. It requires immediate medical attention. If you have any symptoms of preeclampsia after childbirth, contact your provider immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.

What are the complications of postpartum preeclampsia?

Postpartum preeclampsia can lead to serious complications without treatment, including:

Prevention

Can you avoid getting postpartum preeclampsia?

No, there’s no way to avoid or prevent postpartum preeclampsia. The best thing you can do is be aware of the symptoms and discuss your complete medical history with your healthcare provider.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long does postpartum preeclampsia last?

It could take several days to a few weeks for the medication to lower your blood pressure to a safe level. Once your blood pressure is under control, you’re less at risk for other complications.

How do I recover from postpartum preeclampsia?

Recovering from childbirth is hard. Do your best to meet the needs of your baby and yourself during this time. If you have postpartum preeclampsia, you may need extra time in the hospital for closer monitoring. Rest as much as you can and try to focus on your health. Be sure to keep all postnatal appointments and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Living With

When should I go to the hospital for postpartum preeclampsia?

Watch for warning signs of postpartum preeclampsia and trust your instincts. Seek help when you’re not feeling well or when something feels off.

Contact your healthcare provider right away if you have symptoms like headache, swelling in your hands and face or changes in vision. You may need immediate medical attention at the nearest emergency room if you have a seizure or become short of breath.

Will I get preeclampsia again?

If you’ve had postpartum preeclampsia, you’re at higher risk of developing it again. Your healthcare provider may want to monitor you more closely throughout a future pregnancy for signs of preeclampsia.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Knowing the signs of postpartum preeclampsia can save your life. Pay attention to your body and how you feel after your baby is delivered. Tell your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia like headaches, swelling and blurred vision. While postpartum preeclampsia is rare, it’s very serious and can lead to permanent organ damage, stroke or death. Early detection and prompt treatment with medication is the best way to ensure a full recovery.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/06/2022.

References

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Postpartum Preeclampsia. (https://familydoctor.org/condition/postpartum-preeclampsia/) Accessed 7/6/2022.
  • Eunice Kennedy ShriverNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Preeclampsia and Eclampsia. (https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/preeclampsia/conditioninfo) Accessed 7/6/2022.
  • March of Dimes. Postpartum Preeclampsia. (https://www.marchofdimes.org/it-starts-with-mom/postpartum-preeclampsia.aspx) Accessed 7/6/2022.
  • New York State Department of Health. Antepartum and Postpartum Preeclampsia and Eclampsia Management in the Emergency Department (ED): Evaluation and Diagnosis. (https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/2038.pdf) Accessed 7/6/2022.
  • Preeclampsia Foundation. Postpartum Preeclampsia. (https://www.preeclampsia.org/postpartum-preeclampsia) Accessed 7/6/2022.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy