Preeclampsia and eclampsia are the most common complications of pregnancy. It has been said to affect one in every 20 pregnancies.
Although toxemia and Pregnancy Induced Hypertension used to be used to refer to this, they are currently outdated and the preferred term is preeclampsia.
In 2009 there were over 37,000 deaths from preeclampsia, but thanks to a better understanding of the disease this was reduced to 29,000 by 2013.
Preeclampsia (PE) occurs in about the third trimester (20th week) and it is characterized by high blood pressure (hypertension) and large amounts of protein in the urine (proteinuria).
High blood pressure occurs in about 6 to 8% of all pregnancies. It gets worse over time if it goes untreated.
In cases that go untreated and get worse, the red blood cells will break down, there is impaired liver and kidney function, as well as visual disturbances, swelling, and shortness of breath due to the lungs filling with fluid.
If not treated properly the mother may start seizing. The baby also suffers when the mother has preeclampsia; their thinking abilities are affected and may be for some time.
When the mother starts seizing it is called eclampsia. Both preeclampsia and eclampsia may result in the death of both the mother and baby.
Although the major symptoms of preeclampsia that doctors used to use were swelling of the hands and face, this has become so common for most pregnant women that these symptoms are no longer useful for defining those mothers that have preeclampsia.
Today the major symptoms doctors look for is pitting edema, this is edema that leaves an indentation.
Places where this may show up are the face, hands and feet. It is this type of edema that may be indicative of preeclampsia and is something that you should report to your physician.
Other symptoms include blurred vision, sensitivity to light, persistent headaches and abdominal pain.
Any of these symptoms should be carefully reported to your gynecologist so that they can monitor you for preeclampsia. Unfortunately there is no specific test for eclampsia.
There is no known cause of eclampsia but it has been thought to be related to a number of things.
It is thought that immunological factors, abnormal growth and/or development of the embryo, antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, those with a prior history of high blood pressure or eclampsia, dietary factors and environmental factors are all involved in the development of preeclampsia.
Those who have high blood pressure before they become pregnant are seven to eight times more likely to get eclampsia.
Most cases of eclampsia are recognized before birth but this is not always the case. Mothers who are pregnant for the first time, have diabetes or who are carrying twins are more likely to develop preeclampsia.
The following risk factors are associate with preeclampsia: If you have never given birth before, if you are having twins, if you are diabetic, if there is a family history of it, or a prior history, if you are over 35 years old, if you are obese, have kidney disease or have hypothyroidism.
There are measures that pregnant women can take to try and help prevent preeclampsia. These include the following:
Aspirin – It has been shown that a 1 to 5% reduction in cases of preeclampsia will occur when mothers take a low dose of aspirin before the 20th week. Other researchers suggest that women should start the aspirin before their 12th week.
Diet – 1 gram of Calcium per day is recommended for pregnant women to help prevent preeclampsia.
Rest – If the preeclampsia is not too bad the doctor may order bed rest so that your blood pressure will come down and the baby will be able to get more blood through the cord.
Medication – If you get preeclampsia you may be prescribed anti-hypertensives to lower your blood pressure, anticonvulsants for your seizures and corticosteroids to improve liver and platelet function to prolong how well you are able to carry the baby to full term.
Stop Smoking – If your pregnancy is low risk, you gain considerably by quitting smoking; the rate of eclampsia goes down dramatically. The same is not true for those who are high risk to begin with.
In conclusion you should be aware of that preeclampsia is a possibility. Learn the signs and learn that you need to do something right away.