The word "eclampsia" is a Latin word, which means seizures or fittings (having fits). High blood pressure in pregnancy, left untreated, can lead to seizures, which is why the condition is known as preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia Symptoms

While high blood pressure alone does not mean a woman has preeclampsia, it definitely is one indication of the condition. Along with high blood pressure, a woman diagnosed with preeclampsia also has protein in her urine, possibly liver pain, headache, blood abnormalities, or a baby that is small for its gestational age. If the only issue is high blood pressure, then the condition is known as "gestational hypertension." Even though it is not preeclampsia, risks for complications in pregnancy are real and the condition should be treated quickly.

Preeclampsia is diagnosed when there is an increase in blood pressure after 20 weeks gestation when compared to blood pressure at the very beginning of the pregnancy. If blood pressure has increased before 20 weeks, then it is considered more likely to be chronic hypertension rather than a sign of the disease. Some women react to the birth control pill with increased blood pressure and may have higher blood pressure during pregnancy. This is not preeclampsia.

Risk Factors For Preeclampsia

While there is no screening for preeclampsia, there are indications and circumstances that do increase the incidence of it in pregnant women. Some of the risk factors for preeclampsia include age, if a woman is at either end of the age range-either a teen or a woman over 35, and if the pregnancy is the first one. Assisted reproduction increases the chances of preeclampsia, as does a multiple pregnancy. Certain methods of birth control, such as barrier methods, can increase the risk of preeclampsia. Unless there is a period of exposure to the proteins in the father's sperm, the mother may be less "immunized."

Some medical conditions that can put a woman at risk for preeclampsia also exist. Essential hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, lupus, and previous or childhood kidney disease are all risk factors for preeclampsia.

Diagnosis Determines Delivery

When preeclampsia is diagnosed, one of the most outstanding issues is determining if an early delivery is necessary. Often, women with preeclampsia are hospitalized and kept under close observation in order to avoid complications of accelerated blood pressure, stroke (which may lead to temporary or permanent disability), bleeding, kidney disease (due to proteins in the urine), seizures, and liver rupture.

By maintaining regular prenatal visits and increasing them if necessary, both doctor and patient can work together to minimize risks. The increase of visits also helps the doctor to determine if an early delivery is necessary. If the baby is at risk should the delivery be vaginal, then the decision to deliver via caesarean section can be made in enough time to avoid an emergency delivery.

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