Preeclampsia and eclampsia are serious conditions that occur during pregnancy when you have elevated blood pressures and protein in your urine. You may experience headaches, abdominal pain or visual disturbances.
If left untreated, preeclampsia can be dangerous for you and your baby and can lead to eclampsia—a serious condition that, in rare cases, can cause death. Complications caused by preeclampsia include:
- Water in your lungs
- Renal failure
- Reversible blindness
- Bleeding from your liver
- Bleeding after birth
- Placental abruption, which occurs when your placenta separates from your uterine wall
If you have uncontrolled preeclampsia, your baby is at a higher risk of being born prematurely and suffering from related complications such as learning disabilities, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, hearing problems and vision impairment.
Risk Factors for Preeclampsia/Eclampsia
You may be at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia in your first pregnancy. Other risk factors include being pregnant as a teenager or over 40 or having certain conditions such as:
- A history of high blood pressure prior to pregnancy
- A history of preeclampsia in previous pregnancies
- A close relative, such as a mother or sister, who had preeclampsia
- Pregnancy with multiples such as twins or triplets
- A history of diabetes, kidney disease, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
Symptoms of Preeclampsia/Eclampsia
Also called toxemia or pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia is marked by several symptoms, including:
- High blood pressure
- Too much protein in your urine
- Swelling in the feet, legs and hands
- Rapid weight gain caused by an retention of body fluids
- Abdominal pain
- Severe headaches
- Changes in your reflexes
- Reduced urine output or no urine output
- Excessive vomiting and nausea
- Vision changes such as blurry vision, flashing lights or floaters
If you experience these symptoms, it is important to see your physician right away. It is also important to see your physician for regular prenatal exams to ensure that your blood pressure and urine tests are normal. Preeclampsia is easier to manage when it is detected in its early stages.
The only way to cure preeclampsia is to deliver your baby. Your physician will recommend the best course of treatment after assessing your condition and your baby’s health.
If your baby is close to full term (37 weeks gestation or more), your physician may recommend inducing labor or performing a cesarean section (C-section). If your baby is not close to full term, your physician may suggest:
- Bed rest
- Observation with a fetal heart rate monitor
- Frequent ultrasound exams
- Frequent blood and urine tests
- Medication to decrease the risk of your baby having breathing difficulties, lower your blood pressure or prevent seizures
Need more information?
Talk to your doctor if you have questions about pregnancy complications.