Postpartum Preeclampsia

Overview

What is postpartum preeclampsia?

Postpartum preeclampsia is a rare condition that can occur after a woman has given birth. A woman with postpartum preeclampsia will have high blood pressure and high levels of protein in her urine.

Postpartum preeclampsia is related to preeclampsia, a condition that can occur during pregnancy. Pregnant woman with preeclampsia develop high levels of urine protein and high blood pressure.

Most women who develop postpartum preeclampsia do so within 48 hours of childbirth. However, the condition can develop as long as six weeks after childbirth.

Postpartum preeclampsia is a very serious condition. It can lead to strokes, seizures and other complications if not promptly treated. The causes of postpartum preeclampsia are not known.

What are risk factors for postpartum preeclampsia?

Certain risk factors can raise a woman’s chances of getting postpartum preeclampsia. These include:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) during pregnancy
  • Family history of postpartum preeclampsia
  • Being a young mother under age 20
  • Being an older mother above age 40
  • Having twins or multiple babies

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia?

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

  • High blood pressure, usually over 140/90
  • High levels of protein in an individual’s urine, called proteinuria
  • Headache, often severe
  • Changes in vision
  • Swelling of the face, hands, feet or limbs
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain, usually on the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Decreased urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Rapid weight gain

If you have 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.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is postpartum preeclampsia diagnosed?

If your healthcare provider suspects you might have postpartum preeclampsia, he or she 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, the following treatments might be prescribed:

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

Let your healthcare provider know if you are breast feeding so he or she can advise whether the medications are safe for your infant.

What are the complications of postpartum preeclampsia?

Left untreated, postpartum preeclampsia can lead to serious complications, including:

  • Permanent damage to the brain, liver and kidney.
  • Pulmonary edema: A condition of excess fluid in the lungs.
  • Stroke.
  • Thromboembolism: A blood clot that forms and breaks loose in the blood vessels. This can cause death or stroke by blocking a vessel in the lungs, brain, kidneys or legs.
  • HELLP syndrome: A condition in which red blood cells are destroyed, liver enzymes are elevated and the body has a low platelet count. This can be life-threatening.
  • Death.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for postpartum preeclampsia?

Postpartum preeclampsia is a very serious condition that demands immediate medical attention. Once diagnosed and treated however, the prognosis for full recovery is very good.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/29/2018.

References

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnancy Complications. (https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregcomplications.htm) Accessed 3/14/2018.
  • Eunice Kennedy ShriverNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Preeclampsia and Eclampsia. (https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/preeclampsia/conditioninfo/Pages/default.aspx) Accessed 3/14/2018.
  • Yancey LM1, Withers E, Bakes K, Abbott J. Postpartum preeclampsia: emergency department presentation and management. Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2011 Apr;40(4):380-4.doi:10.1016/j.jemermed.2008.02.056.Epub 2008 Sep 23.
  • 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 3/14/2018.

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