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What Is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is also called toxemia and pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure). It can cause swelling, sudden weight gain, and kidney problems. It may develop around the 20th week of pregnancy and last until the baby is born.

Preeclampsia affects about 6% to 8% of all pregnancies. It’s more common with the first baby. Preeclampsia is a serious condition that needs immediate treatment because it can become a serious problem called eclampsia. Eclampsia is lifethreatening and may lead to convulsions or coma. In rare cases, the mother or baby can die.

What Causes Preeclampsia?

The cause is unknown. Some believe that a problem with the placenta may be the trigger. Women who are carrying twins or who have chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, or obesity have greater chances of getting it. It seems to run in families.

What Are the Symptoms of Preeclampsia?

Symptoms are a major increase in blood pressure, sudden weight gain of more than a pound a week, and swelling of hands, face, and feet.

Severe preeclampsia causes these symptoms to get worse, along with abdominal pain, blurred vision, and headache. If it isn’t treated and becomes eclampsia, symptoms will continue to get worse.

How Is Preeclampsia Diagnosed?

No specific test is done for preeclampsia. The health care provider will make a diagnosis from the symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and large weight gain. Blood tests are done and urine is checked for protein, which indicates preeclampsia. Key signs are increased blood pressure and protein in urine.

How Is Preeclampsia Treated?

Treatment depends on the age of the fetus and how severe symptoms are. Home treatment is enough for mild symptoms. Daily activities are cut back. Resting in bed, preferably on the left side, is recommended. Measuring body weight frequently and keeping a record of these weights are important. A home kit is used to test urine for protein.

Women with more severe symptoms need a hospital stay, maybe even until the baby is born. Medicines may be given intravenously to prevent convulsions.

The baby may need to be delivered early by cesarean section if symptoms continue to get worse, if the preeclampsia becomes eclampsia.

Preeclampsia usually starts to go away 4 to 6 hours after the baby is born. Most women don’t have high blood pressure after pregnancy.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Preeclampsia:

  • DO get plenty of rest.
  • DO lie on your left side.
  • DO follow any special diet that your health care provider advises.
  • DO check your urine as instructed.
  • DO tell your health care provider if your hands, legs, or face swells, or if you have vision changes, headaches, or pain in your abdomen (belly).
  • DO call your health care provider if you have a weight gain of more than 3 pounds in 24 hours.
  • DON’T use medicines of any kind during pregnancy without first asking your health care provider.

Contact the following sources:

  • Preeclampsia Foundation
    Tel: (800) 665-9341
  • National Women’s Health Information Center
    Tel: (800) 994-9662
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
    Tel: (202) 638-5577

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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