Postpartum Preeclampsia

Last Updated October 2023 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Deepak S. Patel, MD, FAAFP, FACSM

What is postpartum preeclampsia?

Postpartum preeclampsia is high blood pressure in a woman who has recently had a baby. It can happen as early as a few days afterwards, or up to several weeks after having a baby. In addition to high blood pressure, a woman who has postpartum preeclampsia will also have too much protein in her urine. It is a rare medical condition.

Postpartum preeclampsia is different than preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is high blood pressure that happens while you are pregnant. Postpartum preeclampsia can only happen after the baby is born.

Symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia

The main sign of postpartum preeclampsia is high blood pressure (140/90 millimeters of mercury — mm Hg). Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg. Other common symptoms include:

  • New or unusual headaches (can be severe)
  • Eye problems (blurry or loss of vision, sensitivity to light)
  • A swollen face and limbs (arms and legs)
  • Stomach pain near your ribs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased urination
  • Sudden weight gain (several pounds or more in a week)

Serious complications can include:

  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Organ damage (kidneys, liver, brain)
  • Coma
  • Fluid in your lungs
  • Blood clots
  • Red blood cell damage

What causes postpartum preeclampsia?

The exact cause is unknown. However, your risk of getting it is higher if you had high blood pressure after the 20th week of your pregnancy. Other risk factors include obesity, a family history of high blood pressure, age (younger than 20 and older than 40), and being pregnant with multiple babies (twins, triplets, or more).

How is postpartum preeclampsia diagnosed?

Your doctor will check your blood pressure before you leave the hospital after giving birth. It will be checked again at your post-birth doctor visits. If your doctor suspects you have the condition, a blood test and urine test can provide more information. A blood test involves inserting a small needle connected to a syringe into the vein in your arm to collect a sample of blood. A urine test involves peeing into a cup at a lab or doctor’s office. If your blood pressure is too high, your doctor may send you to the hospital for overnight observation.

Can postpartum preeclampsia be prevented or avoided?

This condition cannot be prevented or avoided. Know your body. If you have any of the symptoms listed, contact your doctor immediately.

Postpartum preeclampsia treatment

Certain blood pressure medicines are used to treat this condition. The medicine will lower your blood pressure. Your doctor may also prescribe other medicine to prevent seizures. It is safe to take these medicines and breastfeed.

Living with postpartum preeclampsia

Getting the right medicine and dosage will lower your blood pressure. It will help your symptoms go away. Depending on what medicine the doctor prescribes, it could take days to a few weeks for the medicine to lower your blood pressure to normal.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Am I at risk of developing postpartum preeclampsia if I didn’t have high blood pressure during my pregnancy?
  • How quickly do serious symptoms start after you notice common symptoms?
  • Do salty foods contribute to postpartum preeclampsia?
  • If I had postpartum preeclampsia with one pregnancy, am I more likely to have it again?
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