15 Important Facts About Preeclampsia And Eclampsia Explained


Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman’s life. Thinking about all of the possibilities and the wonder that the future holds is certainly thrilling. Imagining how the little one will look like, how that being will impact the planet and just picturing those tiny fingers and toys; well, it’s just wonderful. Although, before that little one arrives, mothers need to get through those 9 months of pregnancy.

Every woman wants to have a healthy pregnancy, but unfortunately, there are certain health conditions that a woman can develop that can complicate her pregnancy, like preeclampsia and eclampsia.

Preeclampsia and eclampsia aren’t extremely common. About 5 to 8 percent of all pregnant women develop the condition. However, just because it isn’t very common doesn’t mean that an expectant mom shouldn’t be aware of these health conditions. They can cause serious health issues for both mother and baby, and they can lead to a premature delivery, among other things.

Anyone who has watched the TV show “19 Kids and Counting” will remember that Michelle Duggar developed preeclampsia, which lead to the delivery of her 19th child, Josie, at just 25 weeks gestation. It was a difficult time in the lives of the reality TV show family, and preeclampsia is difficult for any other woman who develops it.

While it was certainly horrible that Mrs. Duggar developed the condition, it brought to light just how important it is for all pregnant women to understand the dangers of preeclampsia and eclampsia.

So, what exactly is preeclampsia and eclampsia? Here is a look at 15 things that every expectant mom needs to know.

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15 What Is Preeclampsia?

Also called toxemia or pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia is a condition that only afflicts pregnant women. It causes high blood pressure in women who did not have high blood pressure prior to being pregnant. It also causes high levels of protein in the urine, as well as swelling in the hands, legs, face and feet.

Typically, women who develop preeclampsia will develop it after 20 weeks gestation, though it can occur earlier. When it is diagnosed before 32 weeks gestation, the condition is known as early-onset preeclampsia.

The majority of preeclampsia will resolve without an issue, but if left untreated, the condition can be very dangerous to the expectant mom and her baby. For that reason, it is extremely important for pregnant women to receive proper prenatal care.

During each prenatal appointment, doctors will examine the expectant moms urine for protein and will take her blood pressure to ensure that she is not showing signs of preeclampsia.

14 What Is Eclampsia?

Eclampsia is a condition that preeclamptic women can develop. It is a severe complication of preeclampsia. Pregnant women who have been diagnosed with preeclampsia and do not receive treatment are the most at risk for developing this condition.

Eclampsia is a rare, but serious condition. The primary side effect of eclampsia is seizures. Because seizures disturb brain activity, women who develop eclampsia can experience episodes of decreased alertness and convulsions, or violent shaking. Seizures can increase the risk of falling, which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. In the most extreme cases, eclampsia can lead to a coma.

If a woman has been diagnosed with preeclampsia, it is vital for her to receive proper medical care to prevent the development of eclampsia. If a preeclamptic women does develop eclampsia, she may need to be hospitalized and/or deliver her baby prematurely.

13 What Causes Preeclampsia

Despite extensive studies, the cause of preeclampsia is not known. With that said, there are several theories that attempt to explain the cause of this pregnancy condition:

  • Some researchers believe that genetics of the fetus could predispose a pregnant woman to preeclampsia. If this theory is correct, if a woman’s mother or her spouses mother had preeclampsia, there is a chance that she will be more likely to develop preeclampsia herself during her pregnancy.
  • Defective blood vessels. Another theory hypothesizes that the blood vessels of some pregnant women constrict instead of widen (widening of the blood vessels is what usually happens.) As a result, blood supply to vital organs, including the liver and the kidneys, decreases, which can cause preeclampsia.
  • Immune system response to the baby. The immune system of some women may see the baby and the placenta as a threat. As a result, the reaction of the immune system may do damage to the blood and the blood vessels, which could result in preeclampsia.

12 Risk Factors

Though any pregnant woman can develop preeclampsia, there are certain factors that can increase her risk.

This condition is more common in first pregnancies than in second, third, etc, pregnancies. Additionally, the following factors have been found to be similar among pregnant women who have developed the condition:

  • Plus Sized
  • Diabetes
  • Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders
  • A family history of hypertension
  • Kidney disease
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • An IVF pregnancy
  • Being aged 40 or above
  • Deficiencies in vitamins and nutrients, including C, D, E and/or magnesium

Additionally, women who have been diagnosed with preeclampsia in one pregnancy are more likely to develop it in future pregnancies; in fact, there chance of developing the condition again is one in three. The risk is even higher in women who are diagnosed with preeclampsia in their first pregnancy or who are diagnosed in the early stages of pregnancy.

11 Symptoms Of Preeclampsia

The following signs and symptoms of preeclampsia are common among women who are diagnosed with preeclampsia:

  • Severe swelling in the hands and/or the face
  • Edema, or swelling the feet and ankles, that doesn’t subside
  • Sudden and excessive weight gain that isn’t the result of excessive eating
  • Lasting headaches that don’t respond to pain relievers that are safe to take during pregnancy
  • Changes in vision, such as blurred vision or double vision
  • A painful feeling in the upper abdominal area
  • High levels of protein in the urine
  • A noticeable rise in blood pressure; 140/90 or greater, when blood pressure has never been that high before
  • Dark colored urine
  • Highly exaggerated reflexes
  • Abnormal function of the kidneys

Do note that many of these symptoms, such as edema and weight gain, are totally normal in healthy pregnancies; however, if these symptoms develop in conjunction with other symptoms, preeclampsia could be to blame.

10 How Is Preeclampsia Diagnosed

Expectant mothers should remain aware of their bodies throughout their entire pregnancy and not shrug off changes if they seem to cause negative changes. If they notice any of the aforementioned signs, they should notify their healthcare providers at once. However, all of the above listed symptoms are not always experienced.

For that reason, routine prenatal care is so important for detecting preeclampsia and diagnosing it in its early stages.

At every prenatal appointment, doctors will check the urine for protein and will take the expectant moms blood pressure. If there is protein in the urine and there is a spike in blood pressure, the physician will do a more extensive assessment to determine if preeclampsia is, in fact, developing.

The doctor will also test the blood to see how well it clots. The health of the baby will also be examined via a maternal blood test, as well as through fetal monitoring.

9 Complications That Can Accompany Preeclampsia

If left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious complications. These complications can include:

  • HELLP Syndrome – HELLP is an acronym for a serious pregnancy complication. H= Hemolysis, the rapid breakdown of red blood cells, which can result in a dangerously low red blood cell count, EL = Elevated liver enzymes, which are a sign that the liver isn’t functioning properly and thus, is not able to properly process the toxins in the body; LP = Low platelet count, which can make it difficult for the blood to clot and could lead to hemorrhaging.
  • Intrauterine Growth Restriction – An estimated birth weight lower than the 10th percentile for gestational age for the baby.
  • Damage to the liver and/or kidneys
  • Placenta abruption, or the early separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus
  • Preterm delivery
  • The development of eclampsia

These complications can make having a safe pregnancy hard and more than often lead to hospitalization.

8 Complications Associated With Eclampsia

As previously mentioned, if left untreated, preeclampsia can become eclampsia, which is a very serious pregnancy condition. Women who develop eclampsia are at a heightened risk for seizure activity throughout their pregnancy. This condition can also result in a pregnant woman going into a coma.

Eclampsia is very dangerous for both the pregnant mother and her baby, and as such, it is classified as a serious obstetrical emergency. An estimated 70 percent of women who are diagnosed with eclampsia will experience one or more of the following:

  • Placental abruption
  • Problems with the kidneys
  • Damage to the liver
  • Excessive bleeding, the result of the inability to form blood clots
  • The swelling and congestion of the tissues that surround the lungs

In the worst case scenario, eclampsia can cause death. For that reason, it is extremely important to maintain routine prenatal care.

7 Effects On The Baby

Preeclampsia and eclampsia not only affects the mother; these conditions can also be detrimental to the developing baby.

Because the health of the placenta can be compromised and since the mother’s blood can be impacted, the baby may not be able to get vital nutrients. As a result, babies may experience a slowed growth. A common side effect of preeclampsia and eclampsia is decreased fetal development, which can cause the baby to be well below the 10th percentile for gestational age.

A lower birth weight and lower size can cause a host of problems for the baby.

Additionally, preeclampsia and eclampsia can decrease amniotic fluid levels. Low fluid levels in the first half of pregnancy can cause the compression of fetal organs, which could result in birth defects. It could also increase the risk of miscarriage or a stillbirth. In the second part of pregnancy, low amniotic fluid could result in preterm birth and complications during labor, such as the compression of the umbilical cord.

6 Treatment Options

The only true treatment option for preeclampsia and eclampsia is delivering the baby. For that reason, women who have developed severe preeclampsia or whose preeclampsia has developed into eclampsia will need to deliver the baby as soon as possible, usually via an emergency C-section (hence the reason Michelle Duggar had to deliver her 19th baby, Josie, at just 25 weeks gestation.)

In severe cases, the blood pressure can rise so significantly that it can cause serious complications, including damage to the organs.

Fortunately, about 75 percent of preeclampsia cases are mild and can be managed without the development of major complications. In mild cases, doctors will likely recommend regular blood and urine tests, increased fetal monitoring, changes to the diet, and bed rest.

In more severe cases, hospitalization will likely be necessary, as will careful fetal monitoring and blood pressure monitoring. If the condition worsens, pre-term delivery will likely be recommended.

5 Prevention

According to the theories that have been hypothesized by some researchers, mothers may be predetermined to the development of preeclampsia and eclampsia, which means that they may not be able to prevent it. However, even if that is the case, the best way to keep this condition in check and to ensure an early diagnosis, is to keep up on prenatal appointments.

In addition to routine prenatal appointments, the following may reduce the risk of developing preeclampsia and eclampsia:

  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, whole grains, low-fat protein and dairy
  • Exercise can also prevent the development of this condition
  • Avoiding excessive weight gain. Weight gain is a part of a healthy pregnancy, but excessive weight gain can bring a host of complications, including the development of preeclampsia and eclampsia.
  • An aspirin regimen may also be helpful, especially for those who are at a high risk of developing these conditions. A doctor should be consulted before starting an aspirin regimen.

4 Is A C-Section Always Necessary?

No, but there is a chance that a C-section will be needed. The majority of women who develop preeclampsia will have a natural and health delivery, but in severe cases of preeclampsia, an emergency C-section may be necessary.

Because blood pressure causes the blood pressure to rise, if it continues to rise, it can cause damage to vital organs. Since the only way to effectively cure preeclampsia is to deliver the baby, there is a definite chance that an emergency C-section will be necessary in serious cases.

If preeclampsia does turn into eclampsia, a C-section will almost certainly be necessary.

With that said, if you are diagnosed with preeclampsia, do not panic. As was mentioned, the majority of women who develop it go on to have healthy pregnancies and deliver their babies naturally, and on or around their projected due dates.

3 How Long Will It Take For It To Resolve?

The majority of cases of preeclampsia and eclampsia are completely resolved within 24 hours of delivering the baby, which is why, in extreme cases, preterm birth via an emergency C-section may be necessary.

Nonetheless though, it is less common, it could take as long as three weeks after delivery for all of the symptoms associated with preeclampsia and eclampsia to subside. This means that pregnant women who are diagnosed with preeclampsia and eclampsia may continue to experience high blood pressure and swelling for several weeks after they deliver their babies.

In all cases of preeclampsia and eclampsia, doctors will continue to monitor the mother until all symptoms of the condition have disappeared.

2 Long Term Effects On The Mother

While the majority of women who develop preeclampsia and eclampsia will not experience any lasting effects, in some cases, long-term effects can be experienced.

Recent studies have found that women who developed preeclampsia or eclampsia during pregnancy were at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure later in live. Additionally, preeclamptic and eclamptic women have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke later on in life, as well as renal disease.

The mortality rate from ischemic heart disease is also much higher in women who have had preeclampsia or eclampsia.

Lastly, these conditions can also lead to cognitive impairments later in life, including memory loss. While there is a chance that the effects of these pregnancy-related conditions could have lasting results, in the majority of cases, women go on to lead very healthy lives.

1 Future Risk To Babies

There are also possible risks to babies whose mothers developed preeclampsia or eclampsia during pregnancy. As was previously noted, the risk of low birth weight, premature birth weight and stillborn birth are all possibilities in preeclampsia and eclampsia. Although the incidences of these risks are low and generally impact women who had severe cases.

It should also be noted that a recent study found that children who were born to preeclamptic or eclamptic mothers were twice as likely to experience autism spectrum disorders. The more severe the case was, the greater the risk of autism in the child.

Lastly, research suggests that children may also be more at risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary artery disease, as well as kidney disease, later in life. Though these are risks, the incidence of these long-term effects on the children are low.

Resources: CNN, Preeclampsia.org

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