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Pregnancy: Preeclampsia and Eclampsia (cont.)

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What causes preeclampsia and eclampsia?

The exact cause of preeclampsia and eclampsia is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a disorder of the lining of blood vessels. Abnormalities of the placenta have also been described. It likely arises due to a combination of factors, including both genetic and environmental influences. A number of genes have been studied as potentially being involved in preeclampsia, and there is an increased risk for women with affected family members. Nutritional factors, obesity, and the immune system may also play a role in its development although this is not yet fully understood. Some studies of the immune response in preeclampsia have shown problems in the way certain cells of the immune system interact with each other to regulate the immune response.

Who is at risk for preeclampsia and eclampsia?

Different factors can increase a woman's risk for developing preeclampsia and eclampsia. These include:

  • Age: Teens or women over 40 are at greatest risk
  • History of preeclampsia/eclampsia in a previous pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Having had high blood pressure prior to pregnancy
  • Pregnancy achieved through egg donation or donor insemination
  • Having a mother or sister who had preeclampsia
  • Having certain diseases, like diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or some kidney diseases
  • Multiple gestation
  • Sickle cell disease
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/18/2014

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