Pre-eclampsia happens during pregnancy if there are problems with the placenta, which is the organ that links the mother’s blood supply with the baby’s

The causes are not clear, but pre-eclampsia affects the mother’s blood vessels and the baby’s blood supply. The mother’s blood pressure goes up and she develops hypertension (high blood pressure). Her kidneys are affected, and protein can be detected in the urine as a result. If the baby doesn’t get enough blood through the placenta, his or her growth can be affected

Although pre-eclampsia is usually mild, in some pregnancies it can lead to life-threatening problems for both mother and baby. It’s important that the condition is diagnosed as soon as possible so the pregnancy can be monitored and the right action taken. A woman with pre-eclampsia may be advised by her doctor to take low-dose aspirin, or to have her baby early

Usually pre-eclampsia has no symptoms at first. Your midwife regularly checks for it by measuring your blood pressure and testing your urine for protein. Many of the symptoms are very common and not a cause for alarm, but it’s always worth getting them checked out if you do experience them

Watch out for signs of pre-eclampsia (see below) – if you have any of these, phone your maternity unit or your GP straight away

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia

  • Obvious swelling (oedema), especially affecting the hands and face or upper body particularly if it has developed over just a few hours or days
  • Severe headache that won’t go away, sometimes with vomiting
  • Problems with vision (blurring, flashing lights or spots difficulty in focusing)
  • Severe pain just below the ribs in the middle of your abdomen

If you have one or more symptoms of pre-eclampsia:

  • phone your GP or maternity unit straightaway


This short film about pre-eclampsia was produced for Our Chance, a campaign by the charities Sands and Best Beginnings to raise awareness of health issues in pregnancy
More information

The charity Action on Pre-eclampsia (APEC) has lots of information on pre-eclampsia

The NHS has produced information and a video about pre-eclampsia and the signs and symptoms to look out for