Preeclampsia is a dangerous combination of high blood pressure, fluid
retention, and high levels of protein in the urine of women after their 20th
week of pregnancy. Sometimes called toxemia, it affects about one in 20 pregnant
women. If not treated, preeclampsia can worsen into eclampsia, a potentially
fatal condition that involves seizures and coma. Preeclampsia puts unborn
children and their mothers at risk.
Signs and Symptoms
High blood pressure (above 140/90)
Large increase in your systolic (top number) or diastolic (bottom
number) blood pressure
Excessive weight gain (more than five pounds in a week)
Sudden weight gain over one or two days
Retention of fluids, which causes the hands and face to swell
(pregnancy naturally causes the ankles to swell slightly, which is not
necessarily a sign of preeclampsia)
Reduction in the amount of your urine
Pain in the upper right side of your abdomen
Disturbances to your vision, such as seeing flashing
What Causes It?
Nobody knows what causes preeclampsia. However, certain women have a higher
risk of developing it in pregnancy. They include women in their first pregnancy;
teenagers and women over 40 who are pregnant; women carrying multiple fetuses;
women who have already suffered preeclampsia; African-American women; and women
who have had high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Once you have described your symptoms, your health care provider will take
your blood pressure and examine your face and hands for evidence of fluid
retention. He or she will want samples of your blood and urine, for tests to
differentiate between preeclampsia and other diseases. Your provider will
probably want you to collect all the urine you produce during a full
If you have a mild case of preeclampsia, your health care provider may
recommend that you rest in bed. You should lie on your left side, to prevent the
weight of your uterus from pressing against important blood vessels. You should
drink a lot of water to help you urinate and get rid of excess fluids. Your
provider will want to monitor your blood pressure and urine every couple of
If your pregnancy is far along (28 weeks or more) and you have severe
preeclampsia, your provider may admit you to the hospital, where you will
receive drugs to induce labor or a cesarean section.
Your practitioner may prescribe the following drugs, which are given
Magnesium sulfate or hydralazine to reduce your blood
Calcium gluconate intravenously if your blood pressure falls too
Furosemide to encourage you to urinate
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
If you have preeclampsia, you should be under the care of an obstetrician.
Complementary and alternative therapies can be used with medical treatment. Some
of the most common ones are described below.
Omega-3 oils (1,000 mg three times a day) are highly beneficial in
pregnancy, and help reduce swelling.
Increasing protein intake may help minimize preeclampsia.
Magnesium (200 mg two to three times per day) helps reduce high blood
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As
with any therapy, it is important to determine a diagnosis before pursuing
treatment. Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas),
glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless
otherwise indicated, teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water.
Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for
roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. Tinctures may be used singly or in combination
Herbs that can be used to treat mild hypertension in pregnancy include the
following: Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), hawthorn berries
(Crataegus laevigata), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), milk thistle
(Silybum marianum), and Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata). Use
equal parts of each in a tincture, 20 drops three to four times a
May be helpful in lowering blood pressure and generally increasing
Your health care provider will monitor you carefully for the first few days
after you have delivered your child. He or she will keep you in the hospital for
several days to several weeks after you have delivered your baby, depending on
the severity of the preeclampsia. You should have checkups at least every two
weeks for the first several months after leaving the
If you wear rings, remove them as soon as you start having symptoms. Swollen
fingers can make it difficult (or even impossible) to remove rings, and they may
begin to cut off circulation in your fingers.
The symptoms of preeclampsia can appear gradually and suddenly get worse. See
your health care provider regularly for checkups during your pregnancy, which
you should do regardless of your risk of preeclampsia. He or she can recognize
the early signs of preeclampsia and get treatment for you
Berkow R, ed. Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 16th edition.
Rahway, NJ: The Merck Publishing Group; 1992.
Larson DE, ed. Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. 2nd ed. New York, NY:
William Morrow and Company; 1996.
Murray M. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Rocklin, Calif:
Prima Health; 1996.
Scalzo R. Naturopathic Handbook of Herbal Formulas. Durango, Colo: 2nd
ed. Kivaki Press; 1994.
Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Dahlia Hirsch, MD, Center for
Holistic Healing, BelAir, MD; Lonnie Lee, MD, Internal Medicine, Silver Springs,
MD; Pamela Stratton, MD, Chief, Gynecology Consult Service, National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda,
MD; Elizabeth Wotton, ND, private practice, Sausalito,
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
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of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed