Pre-eclampsia is not uncommon during pregnancy, and it's a condition that can land you in the hospital for the duration. Unfortunately, for some women, pre-eclampsia is a prelude to more health problems later on, a new study has found.

What Is Pre-Eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is related to hypertension (high blood pressure); up to about a quarter of women with gestational (pregnancy-related) hypertension develop the condition. Pre-eclampsia is associated with:

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Visual problems
  • Swelling
  • Protein in the urine
  • Weight gain in the hands and face

If the mom-to-be develops seizures, she has eclampsia, which can damage organs, especially the liver, and may be life-threatening.

In general, pre-eclampsia patients are kept in the hospital so that she and her fetus can be monitored by medical experts. To help prevent eclampsia, her baby may be delivered early.

But the health problems may not end when the pregnancy does. Women with pre-eclampsia are more than twice as likely as other women to later develop diabetes, according to researchers led by Denice Feig at the University of Toronto. And women with gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia have a 15.75 times higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.

Who Is at Risk for Pre-Eclampsia?

Exactly what puts women at risk for pre-eclampsia in the first place is not entirely clear, though "women who are older and overweight are more prone to developing it," says Jennifer Wu, MD. Pregnant women with type 1 diabetes will be monitored very closely throughout her pregnancy for high blood pressure or protein in the urine, both warning signs of pre-eclampsia, Wu explains. Typically, serial sonograms will check the baby's growth.

Women with metabolic syndrome, which also ups your odds of diabetes, are likewise at risk for pre-eclampsia. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by hypertension, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and high fasting blood sugar.

What Can Be Done?

This study provides new insight into potential risk factors for diabetes; it also reinforces the importance of checking women who have a history of pre-eclampsia or gestational hypertension for diabetes.

Meanwhile, pre-eclampsia patients should receive advice and support: "An expectant mother would benefit from counseling on lifestyle modifications," says Spyros Mezitis, MD, PhD, a clinical endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "In counseling, she would learn about daily exercise and a low-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-salt diet."

In addition, says Dr. Mezitis, women with metabolic syndrome should be taught to recognize the symptoms of diabetes, and Dr. Wu recommends that "if you have had pre-eclampsia, you should be tested later in life to see if you have developed type 2 diabetes."

Jennifer Wu, MD, reviewed this article.


Feig, Denice et al. "Preeclampsia as a Risk Factor for Diabetes: A Population-Based Cohort Study." 16 April 2013. Plos Medicine

"Common Pregnancy Conditions Risk Future Diabetes." 16 April 2013. Science Daily. Web.

"High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy." The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Web. August 2011. Page accessed 7 August 2013.

"Preeclampsia and Eclampsia: Condition Information. What Are Preeclampsia and Eclampsia?"National Institutes of Health Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Web. Page updated 30 Nov. 2012. Page accessed 14 August 2014.

"What Is Metabolic Syndrome?" National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. Web. 3 Nov. 2011. Page accessed 14 August 2013.