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Preeclampsia and Eclampsia

What Is Preeclampsia?

Formerly called toxemia, preeclampsia is a condition that pregnant women develop. It is marked by high blood pressure and a high level of protein in the urine. Preeclamptic women will often also have swelling in the feet, legs, and hands. This condition usually appears during the second half of pregnancy, often in the latter part of the second or in the third trimesters, although it can occur earlier.

If undiagnosed, preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, a serious condition that can put you and your baby at risk, and in rare cases, cause death. Women with preeclampsia who have seizures are considered to have eclampsia.

There's no way to cure preeclampsia, and that can be a scary prospect for moms-to-be. But you can help protect yourself by learning the symptoms of preeclampsia and by seeing your doctor for regular prenatal care. When preeclampsia is caught early, it's easier to manage. 

What Causes Preeclampsia?

The exact causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia -- a result of a placenta that doesn't function properly -- are not known, although some researchers suspect poor nutrition, high body fat, or insufficient blood flow to the uterus as possible causes. Genetics plays a role, as well. 

Who Is at Risk for Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is most often seen in first-time pregnancies, in pregnant teens, and in women over 40. Other risk factors include:

  • A history of high blood pressure prior to pregnancy
  • A history of preeclampsia
  • Having a mother or sister who had preeclampsia
  • A history of obesity
  • Carrying more than one baby
  • History of diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Preeclampsia?

In addition to swelling, protein in the urine, and high blood pressure, preeclampsia symptoms can include:

  • Rapid weight gain caused by a significant increase in bodily fluid
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Change in reflexes
  • Reduced urine or no urine output
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive vomiting and nausea
  • Vision changes

You should seek care right away if you have:

  • Sudden and new swelling in your face, hands, and eyes (some feet and ankle swelling is normal during pregnancy.)
  • Blood pressure greater than 140/90.
  • Sudden weight gain over 1 or 2 days
  • Abdominal pain, especially in the upper right side
  • Severe headaches
  • A decrease in urine
  • Blurry vision, flashing lights, and floaters

You can also have preeclampsia and not have any symptoms. That's why it's so important to see your doctor for regular blood pressure checks and urine tests.

WebMD Medical Reference

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