Pre-eclampsia is a condition that affects some pregnant women, usually during the second half of pregnancy (from around 20 weeks) or soon after their baby is delivered.

Pre-eclampsia usually causes hypertension (raised blood pressure) and proteinuria (the presence of protein in your urine) - your midwife will routinely check both of these things at antenatal appointments. As mild forms of the condition don’t always display symptoms, this is how most cases of pre-eclampsia are discovered. 


Early signs of pre-eclampsia include having high blood pressure and protein in your urine. In some cases, further symptoms can develop, including:

  • swelling of the feet, ankles, face and hands caused by fluid retention
  • severe headache
  • vision problems such as seeing flashes or blurred vision
  • pain just below the ribs
  • feeling generally foggy and unwell

If you notice any symptoms of pre-eclampsia, seek medical advice immediately by calling your maternity unit or NHS 111.


Although the exact cause of pre-eclampsia is not known, it's thought to occur when there's a problem with the placenta, the organ that links the baby's blood supply to the mother's.


Mild pre-eclampsia affects up to 6% of pregnancies, and severe cases develop in about 1 to 2% of pregnancies.

There are a number of things that can increase your chances of developing pre-eclampsia, such as:

  • having diabetes, high blood pressure or kidney disease before starting pregnancy
  • having another condition, such as lupus or antiphospholipid syndrome
  • having developed the condition during a previous pregnancy

Other things that can slightly increase your chances of developing pre-eclampsia include:

  • having a family history of the condition
  • being over 40 years old
  • it having been at least 10 years since your last pregnancy
  • expecting multiple babies (twins or triplets)
  • having a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or over

If you have 2 or more of these together, your chances are higher.

If you are thought to be at a high risk of developing pre-eclampsia, you may be advised to take a daily dose of asprin from the 12th week of pregnancy until your baby is delivered.


If you're diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, you should be referred for an assessment by a specialist. This will usually be in a hospital where you will be monitored closely to determine how severe the condition is and whether a hospital stay is needed.

The only way to cure pre-eclampsia is to deliver the baby, so you will usually be monitored regularly until it is possible for your baby to be delivered. This will normally be at around 37-38 weeks of pregnancy, but it may be earlier in more severe cases.

Medication may be recommended to lower your blood pressure while you wait for your baby to be delivered.

Monitoring your baby’s movements is vital too.


Created by Researchers at the University of Oxford the "Pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure in pregnancy" section on Healthtalk explores the experiences of women with preeclampsia, from diagnosis to future health. The website answers common questions by providing access to real-life experiences of others who have faced pre-eclampsia, including how it affected them. It's a  worthwhile visit for professionals, researchers and women with pre-eclampsia alike.