Pre-eclampsia: A condition in pregnancy characterized by abrupt hypertension (a sharp rise in blood pressure), albuminuria (leakage of large amounts of the protein albumin into the urine) and edema (swelling) of the hands, feet, and face. Pre-eclampsia is the most common complication of pregnancy. It affects about 5% of pregnancies. It occurs in the third trimester (the last third) of pregnancy.
Pre-eclampsia occurs most frequently in first pregnancies. It is more common in women who have diabetes or who are carrying twins. Some women seem to have a strong tendency to develop the disease and suffer from pre-eclampsia with every pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia is more common in daughters of women who have been affected; in many cases the disease tends to run in families.
Pre-eclampsia can be a sign of serious problems. It may, for example, indicate that the placenta is detaching from the uterus. In some cases, untreated pre-eclampsia can progress to eclampsia, a life-threatening situation for both mother and fetus characterized by coma and seizures.
Initial treatment is bed rest and sometimes medication. If that becomes ineffective, the induction of labor and delivery or a C-section may have to be considered. Pre-eclampsia always resolves after a short time when the baby is born.
Pre-eclampsia is sometimes written preeclampsia. The old name for the condition was toxemia.