What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is sometimes also referred to as “pregnancy
induced hypertension.” Developing around 20 weeks
gestation, the major indicator of preeclampsia is a
rise in blood pressure. Hypertension is defined as two
blood pressure readings of 140/90 or above in a 6 hour
period. Any reading that increases by 30 to a person’s
normal reading should also be monitored. A woman suffering
from preeclampsia will also have protein in their urine.
PIH or just pregnancy induced hypertension is also a
potentially serious condition, but protein will not
be present in the urine. Protein in the urine indicates
When blood pressure rises, blood vessels constrict.
This causes less blood flow to the placenta. With less
blood flow, less oxygen and nutrients are reaching the
fetus. Other vital organs in the mother’s body
are also receiving a reduced blood flow. Elevated blood
pressure also starts damaging vessel walls.
Women who suffer with chronic hypertension before becoming
pregnant are at risk for preeclampsia and will need
to be monitored closely for complications.
Preeclampsia Risk Factors
There is no definite cause for preeclampsia or explanation
as to why it affects certain women. There are believed
to be several risk factors associated with the condition.
- Having chronic hypertension
- Multiple fetuses
- Kidney or liver disorders
- Autoimmune diseases
- Genetics-Female family members who have had preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is also noted to be common with first
time pregnancies. Future pregnancies can go without
complication or possibly milder forms.
The earlier the condition arises and the severity,
the higher risk for complications.
The only way to relieve preeclampsia is to deliver
Mild preeclampsia that arises close to a woman’s
due date could call for a labor induction. A doctor
would probably order a sonogram to check fetal health
along with non-stress testing. Blood pressure and urine
tests will continue to be monitored.
Mild preeclampsia that develops further away from a
woman’s due date won’t necessarily mean
induction, but a doctor would require daily blood pressure
monitoring and modified activity. Blood pressure is
generally lower at rest.
Severe preeclampsia almost always requires hospitalization.
Severe preeclampsia could have a woman in the hospital
on bed rest for weeks.
Preeclampsia can rapidly develop during labor and has
also appeared up to six weeks post partum.
Many women feel fine, even when preeclampsia is severe,
often becoming frustrated when told to limit activity.
It is important to understand the severity of the condition.
Many times, preeclampsia has no symptoms. Other symptoms
of preeclampsia mimic those of “normal pregnancy
effects” and can go unnoticed.
or edema in feet, ankles, hands and/or face
- Stomach pain
- Low back
- Elevated blood pressure
- Vision changes
It is important to keep all scheduled prenatal and
Preeclampsia and Eclampsia are sometimes grouped together
as preeclampsia can develop into eclampsia.
Eclampsia is defined as seizures occurring with pregnant
women generally after the 20th week of gestation.
A woman who develops eclampsia is recommended delivery
regardless of gestational age. Prolonging pregnancy
in these instances severely increases the chances of
death to mom and baby dramatically.
There is no known way to prevent eclampsia, but treating
preeclampsia can help eclampsia from occurring.
Doctor or emergency care should be obtained at any
point during a pregnancy when there is any change in
condition. What may seem like a normal pregnancy change
could end up being a life threatening condition.
© Rebecca Pillar 2008