What is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that develops after the 20th week of pregnancy. There is high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Preeclampsia is also called toxemia or pregnancy induced hypertension. If preeclampsia is not identified and managed appropriately, it can have serious consequences for both the mother and the baby.

How does it occur?

The cause of preeclampsia is unknown. It affects about 5-8% of all pregnancies. Preeclampsia is more likely to occur in:

  • A first pregnancy
  • A woman less than 25 yrs old
  • A woman greater than 35 yrs old
  • An overweight woman
  • A woman pregnant with twins, triplets or more
  • A woman with preexisting conditions, such as Chronic hypertension, Diabetes or Kidney disease

What are the symptoms?

The following are the most common symptoms of preeclampsia. However, many women report no symptoms. This is why it is so important to attend all your prenatal appointments.

  • Hypertension
  • Water retention or swelling (most noticeable in the ankles, feet, hands, and face)
  • Protein in your urine
  • Headaches
  • Changes in vision
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the upper right abdomen
  • Shortness of breath

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will measure your blood pressure and test your urine at each prenatal visit. If preeclampsia is suspected, blood tests will be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

How does preeclampsia affect the mother and the fetus?

Preeclampsia causes a constriction of blood vessels. It is currently the leading cause of preterm birth and maternal and neonatal death. In the mother, preeclampsia results in decreased blood flow to the liver, kidneys, and brain. This causes the organs to fail. It can also cause seizures (eclampsia) and more life-threatening disorders.

In the fetus, preeclampsia leads to decreased blood flow to the placenta (the organ that carries nutrients and oxygen to the baby). This can result in a low birth weight baby or in severe cases stillbirth. Rarely, it may cause placental abruption (the placenta separates from the uterus). This leads to severe bleeding in the mother and may result in maternal and neonatal death. Many of the effects of this condition in the newborn are related to prematurity.