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Pregnancy: Preeclampsia and Eclampsia

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Preeclampsia and eclampsia facts

  • Preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure (hypertension) and protein in the urine (proteinuria).
  • Preeclampsia usually occurs after the 34th week of gestation, but it can develop after the infant is delivered.
  • Preeclampsia and eclampsia develop most commonly during the first pregnancy. Pregnant teens and women over 40 are at increased risk.
  • Eclampsia is the development of seizures in a woman with severe preeclampsia. It has a 2% mortality (death) rate.
  • There is no cure for preeclampsia beside delivery of the baby.
  • Women with mild preeclampsia may be monitored closely to allow the baby to mature. They may be given corticosteroids to help the baby's lungs mature and magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures. Sometimes, medications to lower blood pressure are needed.
  • Fetal complications of preeclampsia include the risk of preterm delivery, oligohydramnios (low fluid volume within the uterus), and sub-optimal fetal growth.
  • Maternal complications of preeclampsia and eclampsia include liver and kidney failure, bleeding and clotting disorders, and HELLP syndrome.
  • There is no known way to prevent preeclampsia.
  • The exact cause of preeclampsia is not known, although both genetic (inherited) and environmental factors are likely to be involved.

What are preeclampsia and eclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that can develop during pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure (hypertension) and protein in the urine (proteinuria). If not properly recognized and managed, preeclampsia can progress to eclampsia, which involves the development of seizures in a woman with preeclampsia. Eclampsia can be serious for both mother and baby and can even be fatal. Preeclampsia was formerly known as toxemia of pregnancy. Without treatment, it has been estimated that 1 out of 200 cases of preeclampsia progress to seizures (eclampsia). Estimates of the incidence of preeclampsia range from 2% to 6% in healthy women who have never before given birth.

Preeclampsia occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy and can occur during the days following birth. Some reports describe preeclampsia as occurring up to 4 to 6 weeks after birth, although most cases of postpartum preeclampsia occur within 48 hours of delivery. Ninety percent of cases occur after the 34th week of gestation, and 5% occur after birth.

Preeclampsia and eclampsia are most common in first-time pregnancies. Pregnant teens and women over 40 are also at increased risk.


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