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Pre-eclampsia and Eclampsia: Causes and Treatments

Signs and Symptoms of Pre-Eclampsia and Eclampsia

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Pre-eclampsia and Eclampsia: Causes and Treatments

Causes

Doctors are not sure exactly what causes pre-eclampsia or eclampsia.

Diagnostic and Test Procedures

During your pregnancy, your health-care provider will check your blood pressure at every prenatal visit. If your blood pressure increases greatly compared to before or early in pregnancy, or if your blood pressure numbers reach certain thresholds and you start having protein in your urine, then your health-care provider may diagnose you with pre-eclampsia. You can be diagnosed with this disorder without ever having had noticeable symptoms. Mild pre-eclampsia is diagnosed when your blood pressure is only a little elevated, while severe pre-eclampsia is diagnosed with very high blood pressures and other symptoms, such as headache, abdominal pain, blood and liver abnormalities, and having a large amount of protein in your urine.

Your health-care provider will want to perform urine tests and blood tests, too. These will reveal whether your kidneys and liver are functioning normally, as well as whether you are developing other complications of pre-eclampsia (such as low red blood cells or low platelets).

Treatment

The only way to truly resolve pre-eclampsia and eclampsia is to deliver your baby and placenta. If you are close to your due date, your doctor may induce labor.

If you develop pre-eclampsia too early in your pregnancy for your baby to be delivered safely, then your health-care provider may try to treat you for a while, until the baby has developed enough to be delivered. Your provider will also order on a regular basis tests such as ultrasounds, non-stress testing, or biophysical profiles to check whether the baby is doing well. You probably will be put on bed rest and allowed to get up only to use the bathroom. You'll be asked to lie on your left side as much as possible, to take pressure off certain important blood vessels, allowing your kidneys and the placenta to benefit from greater blood flow. You may be given medication to lower your blood pressure to a safe range.

Many women with pre-eclampsia are admitted to hospital. If you are allowed to go home, you'll probably have to have your blood pressure checked at home, or have a home nurse visit every day or two, to make sure that your blood pressure is stable. In the past, women with pre-eclampsia were asked to eliminate their salt intake. Current understanding of pre-eclampsia, however, suggests that this is incorrect advice, and that women with pre-eclampsia can continue to eat salt, though not excessively.

If home bed rest doesn't improve your blood pressure, or at least stabilize it, or if you develop severe pre-eclampsia, then you may need to be admitted to the hospital. You'll probably need to receive fluids and medicines intravenously (through a needle in your vein). You might be given medication to lower your blood pressure, as well as a medication called magnesium sulfate, which is used to prevent seizures.

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