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Preeclampsia in pregnancy

Dr. Johnson  

Mystie Johnson, MD, a board-certified OB/Gyn,  is chief medical officer at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center and was one of  the first doctors on  staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center.

Question:  My mother had preeclampsia when she was pregnant with me. Does that mean I am at risk of getting it during my pregnancy? What symptoms should I look for? 

Answer:  Preeclampsia, also referred to as Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH), is one of the most common, dangerous complications of pregnancy that may affect both the mother and the fetus. Preeclampsia is more common in a woman’s first pregnancy and in women whose mothers and sisters had preeclampsia. The risk is even greater in women carrying multiple babies, in teenage mothers, and in women older than 40 years old. Women who had high blood pressure or kidney disease before they became pregnant are also at risk. The medical condition occurs in at least five to eight percent of all pregnancies.  

Preeclampsia is a rapidly progressive condition in which hypertension arises in pregnancy and is characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can prevent the placenta from getting enough blood, and ultimately deprive the baby of air and food.  Typically, the disorder occurs after 20 weeks gestation in the second or third trimester and in the postpartum period. 
Symptoms include swelling of the hands and feet, high blood pressure, large amounts of protein in the mother’s urine, sudden weight gain, dizziness, extreme nausea, abdominal pain, severe headaches and changes in vision. However, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms. There is no one test or symptom that diagnoses preeclampsia.  

The cause of preeclampsia remains unclear.  One possible ideology is placental changes cause endothelial dysfunction in the maternal blood vessels.  While elevated blood pressure is the most visible sign of the disease, damages can occur to the kidneys and liver.

There is no known cure for preeclampsia apart from ending the pregnancy through induction of labor or abortion. If it is too early in the pregnancy to deliver the baby, the preeclampsia may be managed. This may include lowering the mother’s blood pressure, bed-rest or medication, and close observation of the mother and baby. In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary.  Proper prenatal care is essential to diagnose and manage preeclampsia. When detected early, most women with preeclampsia deliver healthy babies. 
Preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading global cause of maternal and infant illness and death. These disorders are responsible for an estimated 76,000 deaths each year.

Page Last Modified: 02/05/2014
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