Preeclampsia is a pregnancy related condition in which a woman develops hypertension and proteinuria after the 20th week of gestation. It can advance into eclampsia, which is a serious complication marked by seizures and coma unrelated to an underlying brain condition, such as tumor or aneurysm. Although it occurs in less than 10% of pregnancies, all pregnant women are considered at risk for this hypertensive disorder.
Why preeclampsia occurs is not clear. However, certain conditions seem to make it more likely, for instance:
- first pregnancy
- age ~ under 20, over 35
- gestational hypertension
- immune system problem
- carrying multiple fetuses
- poor diet, vitamin D deficiency
- family or personal history of preeclampsia
- vascular disease ~ hypertension, diabetes, nephropathy
- autoimmune disorder ~ rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma
Mild preeclampsia may not make you feel particularly unwell. In fact, its face and hand edema symptom normally occurs during pregnancy. However, if you have symptoms of sudden weight gain and foamy urine, contact your health care provider immediately.
Symptoms of severe preeclampsia tend to be more pronounced, for instance:
- chronic headache
- nausea & vomiting
- right shoulder pain
- decreased urination
- right side pain below the ribs
- vision changes ~ temporary blindness, flashing lights, spots, light sensitivity, blurred vision
Preeclampsia can evolve into eclampsia, causing symptoms of:
Not all pregnant women with preeclampsia will go on to have eclampsia, but you are at a higher risk with a severe case. Also, severe preeclampsia may lead to HELLP syndrome, which involves hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count (thrombocytopenia) symptoms.
Because preeclamsia stems from a problem with the placenta, the only way to cure it and prevent eclampsia is remove it. And its removal requires delivery of your baby. Two factors are taken into account, the severity of your condition and maturity of the fetus. Depending on your particular situation, delivery is induced right away or delayed with careful monitoring (at home or in a hospital). Symptoms of preeclampsia usually go away a month or two after delivery.
Because eclampsia can be life threatening to both you and your unborn child, pregnancy is only prolonged for as long as necessary.