Doctors and hospitals take preeclampsia very seriously. Typically only in the mildest of cases, where high blood pressure can be measured but doesn't cause any symptoms, is the woman allowed to return home – and only on the condition that she go straight to bed and stay there. If there's no improvement in a couple of days, the woman is admitted to the hospital for observation.
Lying down for long periods reduces blood pressure. In addition, a woman may be told to lie on her left side. This decreases pressure on several major blood vessels and increases the desire to urinate. Regular urination improves the quality of the circulating blood. It is recommended to drink plenty of liquids. Salt intake should not be reduced – while this is a good idea for chronic high blood pressure, salt is needed during pregnancy.
Medications normally used to control high blood pressure are not used to treat preeclampsia. Instead, magnesium sulphate is injected. This reduces hyperreflexia and reduces the chance of seizures. It also lowers blood pressure at the same time. The same medication is given for full-blown eclampsia. If the blood pressure is not controlled with magnesium sulphate alone, injectable blood pressure medications called labetalol* and hydralazine may be used.
Magnesium sulphate helps to control the symptoms and reduces the risk of fatal complications, but the only thing that will pull mother and baby out of the danger zone is to deliver as quickly as possible. Even if the baby is premature, its chances are better "on the outside." Babies are only left in place when the mother's blood pressure is responding to treatment and the baby is clearly too small to survive outside the womb.
If the baby is big enough, and the mother's condition has been stabilized with magnesium sulphate, the doctor will usually give medications to stimulate labour. If for any reason a normal birth poses problems, a caesarean section will be recommended. This operation is very common in Canada.
Sometimes preeclampsia occurs up to 4 weeks after delivery, but usually blood pressure falls steadily from the moment the baby is delivered. Blood pressure usually returns to normal within a few months.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
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