Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition that affects the placenta, reducing blood supply to the baby.

High blood pressure during pregnancy, especially if associated with protein in the urine or swelling in the face, hands and ankles, can be an early sign of a disorder called pre-eclamptic toxaemia. This disorder is also known as pre-eclampsia, toxaemia, hypertensive disease of pregnancy or HDP, pregnancy-induced hypertension or PIH and gestosis. All these names reflect the uncertainty as to its cause.

Pre-eclampsia affects between five and ten per cent of all pregnant women, but rarely in the early stages. It is a serious condition that affects the placenta, reducing blood and oxygen supply to the baby.

If the condition is allowed to progress, clots and fatty acids build up in the placenta blocking the arteries and causing placental failure. The mother’s own blood supply to the vital organs, the brain, kidneys and liver, is also compromised.

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of uric acid in the blood
  • Fluid retention in hands and ankles
  • Facial swelling or puffiness
  • Small urine output

The risk of pre-eclampsia is highest in a first pregnancy.

While you are advised to watch for these symptoms, a rise in blood pressure alone does not indicate pre-eclampsia, and neither does an increase in fluid retention. The two occurring together, however, is significant and should be acted upon.


In its most severe form, known as eclampsia, it can lead to convulsions, premature labour and in rare cases, fatality. Do not make the mistake of thinking you have gastric flu if these symptoms occur in late pregnancy:

  • Headache
  • Flashing lights or visual disturbances
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

Consult your doctor immediately.

Possible Causes

The causes of pre-eclampsia are not clearly known. Poor nutrition is thought to be a factor, particularly if lacking in protein. High levels of toxic metals, such as copper or lead, and low levels of microminerals, especially zinc, could also be causes. Called the “disease of theories” by a doctor in the 1800s, it remains an enigma although medical professionals agree that you are more likely to get pre-eclampsia if any of the following applies:

  • You have diabetes or kidney disease (“toxaemia” translates as poisoning of the blood)
  • Your normal blood pressure exceeds 140/90
  • You are having a multiple birth
  • A family history of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia
  • You are in your teens, or over 40
  • You suffer from migraine


The following steps will help in the early stages of pre-eclampsia. If you have these symptoms, call your doctor or health professional immediately.

  • Eat a high protein diet
  • Eat foods rich in arginine including nuts, seeds, wheat, bread, brown rice oats, chickpeas, egg plant, capsicum, tomatoes, mushrooms, sugar, chocolate, cocoa, carob, coffee, caffeine soft drinks, raisins
  • Get plenty of rest and relaxation to reduce blood pressure
  • Avoid fatty and sugary foods
  • Drink 2-3 litres of water daily
  • Drink nettle, dandelion and lime flowers tea regularly
  • Take adequate levels of vitamin E, B6, C and E, magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc
  • Take evening primrose, flax seed oil and fish oils
  • Drink raw beetroot juice (blended with carrot and apple for taste)
  • Include garlic in your diet
  • Try reflexology to help reduce blood pressure or use acupuncture helps build the immune system and strengthens the kidneys

If you have symptoms, it is best to either lay on your left side, or sit well-propped to improve blood flow to the baby. If your blood pressure exceeds 170/110 you will probably be admitted to hospital for regular blood pressure and urine checks until levels fall. Sedatives are often prescribed.

If you have developed pre-eclampsia, an intravenous drip will administer a drug to prevent convulsions and injections will be given to lower blood pressure. A Caesarean section may be carried out.

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