What is preeclampsia?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Pre-eclampsia is gestational hypertension (blood pressure greater than 140/90) plus proteinuria (>300 mg of protein in a 24-hour urine sample) and fluid retention including edema of the hands and face or weight gain of more than 2 pounds per week. . Severe preeclampsia involves a blood pressure greater than 160/110, with additional signs and symptoms such as scotoma, epigastric pain and headache.

Preeclampsia is fairly common but potentially serious complication of pregnancy. It is characterized by high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine. Preeclampsia, previously referred to as toxemia, usually occurs during the second half of pregnancy, although it may occur earlier and can continue after the baby is born.

It occurs in at least 5 to 8% of pregnancies. Signs include high blood pressure and higher-than-normal amounts of protein in your urine. Symptoms include headaches, changes in your vision and upper right abdominal pain.

Rapid and excessive swelling in hands and face were at one time considered possible symptoms of preeclampsia but are no longer regarded as symptoms. Many women experience some swelling during pregnancy. If your rings or shoes start feeling too tight, don't panic. Talk to your healthcare provider about measures to relieve the discomforts.

Preeclampsia is more likely to develop during your first pregnancy and if other women in your family developed it during their pregnancies. It's also more common in women pregnant with more than one baby, those in their teens and over 40 and those with high blood pressure or kidney disease.

Preeclampsia is dangerous for your baby because it can interfere with your placenta's blood supply. The placenta is the source of nutrition and oxygen for your baby. Any problems with the blood supply can affect the amount of nutrients and oxygen the baby receives and could lead to a low birth weight or other problems. Additionally, a small number of women go on to develop eclampsia, which includes seizures that are not related to a preexisting brain condition.

Most women with preeclampsia give birth to healthy babies because the condition is usually identified early enough in pregnancy for your healthcare professional to intervene.

Dr. Maria F. Daly, DO
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Preeclampsia is a group of symptoms associated with elevated Blood pressure,protein in the urine and swelling of the extremities in a pregnant woman.Eclampsia or the more severe form may cause seizures,and HEELP syndrome associated with elevated blood pressure,low platelet count(necessary for blood clotting,) elevated liver enzymes and possible coma.

The cause of preeclampsia and eclampsia have yet to be accurately determined. Possible causes  are genetic ,or an immune cause with inflammatory responses of the pregnant blood vessals.

Other theories revolve around the blood vessels of the placenta that may have become injured  and thus react by producing substances that cause them to tighten.Usually pregnancy induced hypertension occurs with the first pregnancy.

The injuries incured may lead to the kidney not functioning well and leaking abnormal protein into the urine. Blood vessels in the body as well as the kidneys may tighten or constrict leading to elevated blood pressure and swelling of the hands,feet,or even face.

When a pregnant woman visits the clinic or office for her regularly scheduled OB visits,her blood pressure is monitored,and her urine is checked for protein.She is checked for swelling of her hands and feet and is asked about her vision and headaches occuring.This is especially noted after the 20th week into pregnancy when PIH (pregnancy induced hypertension )may occur. A 30 mm rise from Systolic base (the first number in the blood pressure reading), or a 15 mm rise in the Diastolic reading( the lower number in the reading should warn the Physician to repeat the Blood pressure and closly monitor the pregnant woman.Headaches,visual disturbances and abdominal pain should alert the Obstetrician that aggressive treatment must be ordered.Preeclampsia and Eclampsia affects both the mother and the fetus.

Dr. Darria Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition that occurs in the last half of pregnancy. Symptoms include headache, vision changes and vomiting. In this video, Darria Gillespie, an emergency room physician at Emory University Hospital, explains preeclamsia.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

As many as 10 percent of pregnant women suffer a condition called preeclampsia, characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in their urine. You may experience symptoms such as swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches, changes in vision, or upper abdominal pain, or you may have no symptoms at all and your provider may pick it up during a routine prenatal visit (preeclampsia usually occurs in the second trimester).

Women under age 20 and over age 40 are at increased risk, as are women who have a vitamin D deficiency, high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines, obesity, a family history of preeclampsia, or who have had a urinary tract infection or periodontal disease during pregnancy.

The cause is not known, but a tantalizing clue lies in the observation that the longer you've been in a sexual relationship with your partner and the more children you've had together, the less likely you are to develop preeclampsia. This has led to the theory that preeclampsia is an immune reaction of mom to foreign proteins from dad in the placenta that causes inflammation in the linings of mom's blood vessels. The result: elevated blood pressure, damage to the kidneys and liver, as well as placental abruption or IUGR. Preeclampsia may also put you at risk of heart disease later in life.

While the only real cure for preeclampsia is delivery, if you're diagnosed with preeclampsia, and the baby's lungs are not yet mature, you may be placed on bed rest so you preferentially send blood to your uterus and to give your child more time to get the nutrients he needs for organ development before birth. Steroids may be used to accelerate the lung maturity while anticipating a possible early delivery. Eating more fiber can also help.

YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

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YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.