If pre-eclampsia is not diagnosed and monitored, a number of serious complications can develop. These are listed below.
Eclampsia is a term that describes a type of convulsion (involuntary contraction of the muscles) that pregnant women can experience, usually from week 20 of the pregnancy, or immediately after the birth. Eclampsia is quite rare - for example, a 2005 survey found that there are about three cases of eclampsia for every 10,000 births.
During an eclamptic convulsion, your arms, legs, neck, or jaw will twitch involuntarily in repetitive, jerky movements. You may lose consciousness and you may wet yourself. The convulsions usually last less than a minute.
While most women make a full recovery after having eclampsia, there is a small risk of permanent disability or brain damage occurring if the convulsions are severe. Around 1 in 50 women will die from the condition. Unborn babies can suffocate during a seizure, and 1 in 14 may die.
Research has found that magnesium sulphate can halve the risk of eclampsia occurring and reduce the risk of the mother dying. It is now widely used to treat eclampsia after it has occurred, and to treat women who may be at risk of developing it.
HELLP syndrome is a combined liver and blood clotting disorder that can affect pregnant women. It is most likely to occur immediately after the delivery of the baby, but can appear anytime after week 20 of the pregnancy.
The name, HELLP, stands for each part of the condition:
H - haemolysis - where the red blood cells in your blood break down,
EL - elevated liver enzymes - enzymes are proteins that speed up and control chemical reactions in the body; a high level in the liver is a sign of liver damage, and
LP - a low platelet count - platelets are cells in the blood that help it to clot.
HELLP syndrome is potentially as dangerous as eclampsia and it is slightly more common. The only way to treat the condition is to deliver the baby as soon as possible. Once the mother is in hospital and is receiving treatment, it is possible for her to make a full recovery. The main danger to the baby is from premature birth (being born before the 37th week of pregnancy).
Often premature babies have a low birth weight and find it hard to breathe on their own. It is likely that they will need to stay in neonatal intensive care for close supervision. If the baby's birth weight less than 1,500 g (3½ lbs), the baby has a 1 in 6 chance of dying before their first birthday.
A cerebral haemorrhage, more commonly known as a stroke, is where the blood supply to your brain is disturbed. If your brain does not get enough oxygen and nutrients from your blood, your brain cells will start to die.
Pulmonary oedema is where fluid builds up in and around your lungs. This stops them from working properly by preventing them from absorbing oxygen.
If your kidneys are unable to filter waste products from your blood, toxins and fluids build up in your body. Your blood will not be able to function normally because it is not being cleaned properly.
Your liver has many functions, including digesting proteins and fats, producing bile, and removing toxins. Any damage that disrupts these functions could be fatal.
Disseminated intravascular coagulation
Disseminated intravascular coagulation is where your blood clotting system breaks down, and the proteins that control blood clotting become abnormally active.