Preeclampsia is the onset of high blood pressure during pregnancy. It usually appears at around 20 weeks. Eclampsia is a rare and severe complication of preeclampsia that involves protein in the urine and seizures and affects 1 in every 200 preeclamptic women.
Risk factors for developing preeclampsia include chronic high blood pressure, age, obesity, carrying multiples (i.e. twins, triplets) and having too short/too long of intervals between pregnancies. Preeclamptic high blood pressure may develop slowly, so it is important to monitor even slight changes.
Though many women do not experience obvious symptoms, symptoms include protein in urine, headaches, stomach pain, nausea/vomiting, low urine output, low platelet levels, impaired liver function, shortness of breath, and impaired vision. Symptoms usually disappear soon after birth, but in some cases, may cause heart, liver, or kidney damage.
Susceptibility to preeclampsia/eclampsia can be inherited genetically. For example, “preeclampsia/eclampsia 1” is related to an autosomal dominant mutation in the PEE1 gene. “Autosomal dominant” means an affected individual has a 50% chance of passing the condition onto his/her offspring. There are other genes that may cause susceptibility to preeclampsia/eclampsia as well. The mutant PEE1 gene does not allow the blood vessels of the placenta to function properly, thus limiting blood flow.
Preeclampsia is diagnosed after prolonged high blood pressure with urine/blood tests to check for excess protein in urine/a low platelet count. Fetal ultrasounds or nonstress tests may also be used. Preeclampsia may be treated with blood pressure or anti-seizure medications if the condition is advanced. The only “cure” for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby. If preeclampsia develops too early for a safe delivery, frequent doctor visits are recommended to closely monitor the condition and the pregnancy.
Description Last Updated: Aug 21, 2018