Overview of Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
Disclaimer: This is intended for educational purposes only, not medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns.
Preeclampsia and eclampsia are part of the spectrum of high blood pressure disorders related to pregnancy.
Preeclampsia is a sudden spike in blood pressure and if left untreated, can lead to eclampsia which is more severe and can progress to seizures or a coma.
Preeclampsia-related high blood pressure and other associated symptoms typically go away within six weeks after a mother gives birth.
What Causes Preeclampsia and Eclampsia?
The cause of preeclampsia and eclampsia is unknown.
It was previously believed that a toxin caused preeclampsia and eclampsia, and the condition was referred to as “toxemia.”
It is now known that the conditions are not caused by a toxin but rather by several factors.
Studies are looking into the many factors that may contribute to the development and progression of preeclampsia and eclampsia and include placental abnormalities, such as insufficient blood flow, genetic factors, environmental exposures, nutritional factors, maternal immunology and autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular and inflammatory changes, and hormonal imbalances.
Who is at Risk of Developing Preeclampsia and Eclampsia?
Preeclampsia appears to be more common with first-time mothers.
Although there are no concrete reasons as to why some people develop preeclampsia, there are a few factors that put someone at a higher risk for developing it such as a history of high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, expecting multiples, family history of preeclampsia, autoimmune conditions like lupus, maternal age of 40 years or older, and obesity.
Women who had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy are at a higher risk of developing it again in subsequent pregnancies.
What Risks to Mother and Baby Are Associated with Preeclampsia and Eclampsia?
Both preeclampsia and eclampsia can lead to serious health concerns for the mother and baby.
In most cases, preeclampsia during pregnancy is mild but can quickly turn severe or become eclampsia if left untreated.
Preeclampsia in pregnancy can lead to an increased risk of damage to the maternal kidneys, liver, brain, and other organ and blood systems.
This condition can also cause the placenta to separate from the uterus before birth (called placenta abruption) and cause preterm delivery.
In more severe cases, preeclampsia can cause pregnancy loss or stillbirth.
If preeclampsia progresses to eclampsia, it may lead to maternal seizures, organ failure, or stroke which will directly impact the health and well-being of the baby.
Preeclampsia and eclampsia can decrease the amount of oxygen and nutrients being delivered to the unborn baby which can result in various health and developmental issues.
Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia and Eclampsia
Many woman with preeclampsia don’t exhibit any symptoms. For those that do, some of the signs of preeclampsia include high blood pressure, protein detected in the urine, swelling of a woman’s hands and face (edema), nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, and right upper quadrant abdominal pain.
Eclampsia may present with the same symptoms as preeclampsia as well as others including seizures, severe headaches, vision problems like temporary blindness, and decreased urine output.
How Are Preeclampsia and Eclampsia Diagnosed?
During routine prenatal appointments, your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure and take a urine sample.
If the blood pressure is elevated (140/90 or higher), especially after the 20th week of pregnancy, the healthcare provider will likely want to do more extensive blood work and test the urine for increased protein levels, called proteinuria.
Mild preeclampsia is diagnosed when the blood pressure is higher than 140/90 mmHg and urine with 0.3 or more grams of protein in a 24-hour specimen.
Mild preeclampsia is also diagnosed when there is evidence of liver or kidney dysfunction in the bloodwork, fluid in the lungs and difficulty breathing, and visual impairments.
Severe preeclampsia is diagnosed when the blood pressure is higher than 160/110 mmHg on at least two occasions 4 hours apart while the mother is on bed rest, or urine with 5 or more grams of protein in a 24-hour specimen.
Severe preeclampsia is also diagnosed when blood work results indicate kidney or liver damage, when there are symptoms like severe unexplained stomach pain that cannot be relieved by medication or symptoms including visual disturbances, difficulty breathing, and fluid buildup in the body.
Eclampsia is diagnosed when women with preeclampsia develop seizures before labor, during labor, or after giving birth.
What is Postpartum Preeclampsia?
Postpartum preeclampsia is when a mother develops preeclampsia 48 hours to six weeks after giving birth.
It can occur in both women who had preeclampsia during pregnancy and those who did not have preeclampsia during pregnancy.
The signs and symptoms are generally the same as pregnancy-related preeclampsia and the condition needs to be addressed by a healthcare professional immediately.
How Are Preeclampsia and Eclampsia Treated?
The most common and reliable treatment for preeclampsia and eclampsia is delivering the baby where possible.
However, symptoms of these conditions may continue even after the baby is born.
The treatment plan generally depends on the gestational age of the baby.
If preeclampsia or eclampsia develop when the baby is 37 weeks gestation or later, your healthcare provider will most likely recommend delivering the baby to treat these conditions and avoid any further complications.
If the baby is less than 37 weeks gestation and the condition is mild, your healthcare provider may recommend waiting to deliver and trying to control the symptoms via bed rest and close monitoring.
There are also medications that can be used to try to lower blood pressure and prevent seizures.
To help the baby’s lung development, the doctor may suggest administering steroids in the event that the baby needs to be delivered prematurely.
Treatment for eclampsia is generally as follows: administer medication to treat or prevent seizures, treat high blood pressure, and deliver the baby as soon as possible.
Treatment for postpartum preeclampsia may include medications to prevent blood pressure from reaching dangerously high levels and medications to treat or prevent seizures.
Preeclampsia and eclampsia are high blood pressure related health conditions that occur in pregnancy or postpartum.
Preeclampsia and eclampsia are not very common but are serious and need to be addressed by a healthcare provider immediately.
While the chances of developing preeclampsia or eclampsia are low, it can be beneficial to have a general understanding of these conditions in case you experience any of the previously mentioned symptoms during your pregnancy.
It is important to receive routine prenatal care throughout your pregnancy because early detection and treatment of these conditions will lead to better outcomes for mothers and babies.
If you begin experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact your medical provider immediately to get assessed.
Thanks to modern medicine and the availability of medical care, preeclampsia and eclampsia can be treated quickly and result in a positive outcome for both mom and baby.
Book your private 3D/4D ultrasound here or find out more about our clinic at babyinsight3d.com.
Preeclampsia and Eclampsia article by the National Institution of Health
Preeclampsia article by Cleveland Clinic