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Preeclampsia and eclampsia

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Preeclampsia and eclampsia are health complications that occur in pregnant women. While pre-eclampsia is less serious, eclampsia can turn out to be fatal with 2% mortality rate in pregnant women.

It is very important to spot the symptoms of preeclampsia during the second half of pregnancy. This will help in seeking prenatal care and keep the condition in check. Preeclampsia is quite a worrisome problem for pregnant women as it has no cure. Proper management of the condition will help prevent eclampsia from developing.

What is preeclampsia and eclampsia?

Preeclampsia is characterized by elevated blood pressure in pregnancy along with high amounts of protein in urine. The symptoms develop after the 20th week of pregnancy, but can also develop post delivery. Preeclampsia can have mild to severe effects and can progress quite quickly or have a slow and gradual development.

If not diagnosed properly, it can progress to severe and life threatening condition i.e. eclampsia. In this case, the pregnant mother will be experiencing seizures, which are not associated with nervous problem.

The doctor will suggest monitoring your protein levels with urinalysis and blood pressure at every prenatal visit.

What are the symptoms of preeclampsia and eclampsia?

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Apart from high blood pressure and proteinuria, characteristic symptoms of preeclampsia include:

If you develop the some or most of the following symptoms, visit the hospital emergency room immediately:

  • Sudden swelling on the face, hands and eyes
  • Sudden weight gain in a day or so
  • Pain in the abdomen, especially the upper right side
  • Sudden severe headaches
  • Blurry vision, floaters or flashing lights
  • Decrease in urine output
  • Blood pressure that is more than 140/90

The signs of preeclampsia persist in eclampsia too. However, they tend to become much more severe along with convulsions and seizures.

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Causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia

The exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown. There are several possible reasons behind the development of preeclampsia during pregnancy. Pregnant women tend to develop many new blood vessels early in pregnancy. These vessels helps in flow of blood to the placenta. In preeclampsia, these blood vessels tend to be narrower than normal and have a different reaction to the hormones.

These abnormally developed blood vessels can be due to poor blood flow in the uterus, placental abnormalities, complications in blood vessels and immune system, pre pregnancy hypertension, nutritional deficiencies and genetic factors as well.

The risk factors in pregnant women include:

  • Suffering from diabetes or gestational diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or kidney problems
  • Developed preeclampsia in previous pregnancy
  • Teen pregnancy or advanced stage, i.e. above 40
  • Conceived twin, triplets or more

Your vulnerability of developing eclampsia increases with poorly managed preeclampsia.

Diagnosis of preeclampsia and eclampsia

Pregnant mothers may be screened for preeclampsia as it might be asymptomatic also. Primary diagnosis involves measuring blood pressure and analyzing protein content in the urine sample. The symptoms and changes in your body will be evaluated. Your doctor will further advice other biochemical tests like CBC test, blood clot analysis, liver function tests, etc.

Managing preeclampsia and eclampsia

If you have developed preeclampsia in the early weeks of pregnancy, then your doctor would prescribe medicines to lower your blood pressure and advice come corrections in your diet. You will be advised complete bed rest.

Otherwise, doctors consider delivering the baby as the safest option. Several attributes like risks of early delivery, development of the baby, impact on the baby, etc. will be taken into consideration before performing the delivery. You may be given medicines for labor induction or a C-section might be performed.

Preventing eclampsia is at topmost priority. In this regard, your doctor should prescribe anti-seizure medications.

What are the complications of preeclampsia and eclampsia

There are numerous health risks and complications associated with preeclampsia and eclampsia.

First, depending upon the underlying complication; for example - abnormality in placental circulation can hinder proper growth and development of the baby. Due to premature delivery, your baby might have low birth weight.

Although rare, we cannot ignore the risk ofHELLP syndrome which is the abbreviation for hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets. Severe hypertension can also lead to stroke.

Lastly, eclampsia is responsible for 2% of fetal and maternal death.

Preeclampsia cannot be prevented, although it can be managed. You have to rely completely on your doctor, listen to him/her and take care of your health for a safe delivery.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: March 16, 2015

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