Preeclampsia, which causes extremely high blood pressure, can lead to stroke, bleeding and excess fluid in the lungs.
For this study, researchers gave 20 women with severe preeclampsia heart and lung ultrasounds before and after they gave birth. The researchers were looking for pulmonary edema -- excess fluid in the lungs -- which can lead to respiratory failure.
"Lung ultrasound is fast, safe, noninvasive and easy to use," lead author Dr. Marc Leone, vice chairman of the department of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Hopital Nord in Marseille, France, said in a journal news release.
"We found it allowed us to quickly assess whether a woman with preeclampsia had pulmonary edema and confirm the severity of the condition," he added.
Lung ultrasound detected pulmonary edema in 25 percent of the women before delivery, while heart ultrasound detected the condition in 20 percent of the women, according to the findings, which were published in the April issue of the journal Anesthesiology.
The researchers said the use of ultrasound could prevent pregnant women with pulmonary edema from being given intravenous or excess fluids, which worsens the condition and can lead to respiratory failure.
Treatments for pulmonary edema include oxygen and medication to lower blood pressure or remove excess fluid from the body. Lung ultrasound could also be used to assess the effects of treatment for pulmonary edema, the researchers said.
Worldwide, as many as 60,000 women die of preeclampsia each year.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about pulmonary edema.