Pre-eclampsia is a disease of the placenta. It often develops after 20 weeks and is more common with first babies and in women with a family history of the disease. It is characterised by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and sometimes, swelling in the hands, feet and face.
Having any one of these symptoms on its own doesn’t necessarily mean that you have pre-eclampsia, but if you have two or more it’s possible that you do. There’s no test that can diagnose the condition.
You can have pre-eclampsia and feel perfectly well. However, it’s possible for it to get worse very suddenly, causing severe problems both for you and your baby. Severe headaches, disturbed vision and pain in your upper abdomen are all symptoms of advanced pre-eclampsia.
If your doctor suspects that you have pre-eclampsia, you’re likely to be asked to go into hospital to be closely monitored in case things suddenly get worse. The only treatment for pre-eclampsia is for your baby to be born. This may be problematic if the baby is still immature. The risks to you and the baby from continuing the pregnancy with pre-eclampsia have to be carefully weighed against the risks to the baby being born early.