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Preeclampsia Quick Overview

  • Preeclampsia is a complication of pregnancy that is associated with high blood pressure.
  • Other signs and symptoms include swelling (edema) and protein in the urine.
  • The exact cause of preeclampsia is not well understood.
  • Preeclampsia occurs any time after the 20th week of pregnancy. It can even occur after the birth of the baby, but preeclampsia after delivery is much less common that during pregnancy.
  • Around 5%-14% of pregnancies are complicated by preeclampsia.
  • Preeclampsia may range from mild to severe.
  • There is no cure for preeclampsia; however, delivery of the baby typically resolves the symptoms.
  • The diagnosis of preeclampsia is made by measuring blood pressure as well as blood and urine tests. Tests to monitor the health of the baby are also routinely performed.
  • Risk factors for developing preeclampsia include multiple gestation, maternal age over 35, history of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
  • There is no known way to prevent preeclampsia.

What is preeclampsia?

Patient Comments

Preeclampsia is a condition associated with high blood pressure during pregnancy. It is a serious complication of pregnancy characterized by the development of high blood pressure, edema (swelling), and protein in the urine. Women diagnosed with preeclampsia may also complain of blurred vision, headaches, and experience greater than normal weight gain.

Preeclampsia is a serious complication of pregnancy associated with the development of high blood pressure, and edema (swelling), and protein in the urine. Women diagnosed with preeclampsia may also complain of blurred vision, headaches, and experience greater than normal weight gain.

Preeclampsia occurs any time after the 20th week of pregnancy. It can even develop up to six weeks after the baby is born (the postpartum period, referred to as postpartum preeclampsia) but this is uncommon. Toxemia or toxemia of pregnancy are names that have been used to describe preeclampsia.

  • Worldwide, it has been estimated that 5% to 14% of pregnancies are complicated by preeclampsia.
  • Preeclampsia usually occurs in a woman's first pregnancy, but may occur for the first time in a subsequent pregnancy. In the U.S., 3% to 6% of pregnancies will be complicated by preeclampsia.
  • Less than one in 100 women with preeclampsia will develop eclampsia or convulsions (seizures).
  • Up to 20% of all pregnancies are complicated by high blood pressure. Complications resulting from high blood pressure during pregnancy, preeclampsia, and eclampsia may account for up to 20% of all deaths that occur in pregnant women.

What causes preeclampsia?

No one knows exactly what causes preeclampsia. It is believed to be a dysfunction in the lining cells of blood cells (endothelial cells).

Since what causes preeclampsia is not known, no effective tests predict when preeclampsia will occur, and no treatments prevent preeclampsia from occurring (or re-occurring).

Some factors are known to increase as woman's risk of developing preeclampsia.

  • Multiple gestations
  • Women older than 35 years of age
  • History of high blood pressure before pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
  • Other medical problems (such as connective tissue disease and kidney disease).

For unknown reasons, African American women in the US are more likely to develop preeclampsia than white women.

Preeclampsia may run in families, although the reason for this is unknown.

Preeclampsia is also associated with problems with the placenta, such as too much placenta, too little placenta, or how the placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus. It also may be associated with a hydatidiform mole, in which there is no normal placenta and no normal baby.

There is nothing that any woman can do to prevent preeclampsia from occurring.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/7/2015

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Patient Comments & Reviews

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Preeclampsia - Experience

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Preeclampsia - Treatment Medications

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7 Blood Tests for Preeclampsia

A woman who may have signs of early or mild preeclampsia will have her blood tested to detect additional signs of preeclampsia, and a woman who has preeclampsia may have specific blood tests ordered to help assess her health. The woman's health-care professional will review the laboratory tests for the following since these may be signs of preeclampsia.

  1. Increased uric acid
  2. High hematocrit level
  3. Low platelet count
  4. Increase in partial thromboplastin time or PTT
  5. Amount of electrolytes
  6. Kidney function tests
  7. Liver function tests

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Preeclampsia »

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-specific syndrome characterized by new-onset hypertension and proteinuria, occurring usually after 20 weeks' gestation.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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