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Understanding Preeclampsia

By Susan Tanner

What is preeclampsia?

Once known as toxemia, it is caused by a defect in the placenta which causes a pregnant woman's blood pressure to rise, endangering mother and baby. Affecting about 7% all pregnancies, it is the most common of the serious complications of pregnancy. About one in 50 women are afflicted by severe preeclampsia.

In severe cases, preeclampsia can be very dangerous to both mother and baby. The mother could develop seizures and, due to the possibility of a low platelet count caused by the disease, could hemorrhage. In the meantime the baby would be living in a hostile environment due to the elevated blood pressure. There would be a reduced level of blood flow to the baby, which would result in a reduced flow of oxygen and nourishment.

Am I at risk of preeclampsia?

Those most at risk are women with family histories of preeclampsia, long-standing high blood pressure or kidney disease, pregnancy-induced diabetes, autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus, and those over 40 years old.

When in pregnancy does preeclampsia occur?

Preeclampsia is a disease that usually afflicts the second half of pregnancy, usually within the last weeks of a woman's term. In certain cases, such as those with risk factors, it can occur much earlier.

What are the symptoms of preeclampsia?

Some symptoms include blurred vision, headaches, upper-right abdominal pain, swelling in the hands or face, infrequent urination, and rapid weight gain. Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are not specific only to preeclampsia; many of them are also associated with a normal pregnancy. Because of this, it is important to talk to your doctor about preeclampsia to be sure.

The most common indicator of preeclampsia is an elevation in blood pressure. For some women, a blood pressure of 130/80 can signal the condition, while others may not be diagnosed until their blood pressure is much higher. It all depends on the base blood pressure. If the upper number goes up by 30 or if the bottom number goes up by 15, preeclampsia is suspected.

How will my doctor be sure?

Blood tests can be done, and preeclampsia can be indicated by a low platelet count or abnormal liver or kidney test results. Protein in the woman's urine can also lead to diagnosis of the situation.

Is there a cure?

Preeclampsia is curable only by delivery. In severe cases, the doctor may insist on a caesarian section. Delivery of babies early due to preeclampsia includes an added risk of death due to prematurity.

Will preeclampsia reoccur?

About ten percent of women will have preeclampsia in a subsequent pregnancy. The chances of reoccurrence increase in women with high risk factors.

Are there any permanent side effects?

There are no long term effects associated with preeclampsia. About ten percent of women with preeclampsia may have high blood pressure for a few weeks after delivery. Although it may cause very high blood pressure during pregnancy, preeclampsia is not a predictor of high blood pressure later in life.

About The Author

Susan Tanner is a wife and mother of three. She is also the editor of Pregnancy-Guide is an online community for mothers to find support and valuable information. Please visit Pregnancy-Guide at


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