Preeclampsia and Eclampsia

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What is preeclampsia?

Also referred to as toxemia, preeclampsia is a condition that pregnant women can get and is marked by three specific symptoms: water retention (with swelling particularly in the face and hands), high blood pressure and protein in the urine.

Preeclampsia, when present, usually appears during the second half of pregnancy, usually after the 20th week, but can appear as early as the fifth month.

What is eclampsia?

Eclampsia is the final and most severe phase of preeclampsia and occurs when preeclampsia is left untreated. In addition to the previously mentioned symptoms, women with eclampsia have seizures. Eclampsia can cause coma and even death of the mother and baby and can occur before, during or after childbirth.

What causes preeclampsia and eclampsia?

The exact causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia are not known, although some researchers suspect poor nutrition, high body fat or insufficient blood flow to the uterus as possible causes.

Who is at risk for preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is most often seen in first-time pregnancies and in pregnant teens and women over 40. Other risk factors include:

  • A history of chronic high blood pressure or "hypertension"
  • Previous history of preeclampsia
  • Obesity prior to pregnancy
  • Carrying more than one baby
  • History of diabetes, kidney disease, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis

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How can I tell if I have preeclampsia?

In addition to swelling, protein in the urine, and high blood pressure, symptoms of preeclampsia can include:

  • Rapid weight gain caused by a significant increase in bodily fluid
  • Abdominal pain
  • Severe headaches
  • A change in reflexes
  • Reduced output of urine or no urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Dizziness or visual disturbances
  • Excessive vomiting and nausea

Does swelling during pregnancy mean I have preeclampsia?

Some swelling is normal during pregnancy. However, if the swelling doesn't go away and is accompanied by some of the above symptoms, be sure to see your doctor right away.

How can preeclampsia affect my baby?

Preeclampsia can prevent the placenta from receiving enough blood, which can cause your baby to be born very small. It is also one of the leading causes of premature births and the difficulties that can accompany them, including learning disabilities, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and hearing and vision problems.

How is preeclampsia and eclampsia treated?

The only real cure for preeclampsia and eclampsia is the birth of the baby. If the baby is pre-term, the condition can be managed until your baby can be safely delivered. Your health care provider may prescribe bed rest, hospitalization or medication to prolong the pregnancy and increase your unborn baby's chances of survival. If your baby is close to term, labor may be induced.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional written health information, please contact the Health Information Center at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771 or visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health This document was last reviewed on: 4/5/2004

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