Preeclampsia — What is It?Molly Thornberg
What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a life-threatening disorder that is most often characterized by a rapid rise in blood pressure and protein in urine. Preeclampsia can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and death of the mother and/or baby. It is the most-common dangerous complication in pregnancy.
Who is at Risk?
Women who are pregnant – 20 weeks gestation thru postpartum are at risk for Preeclampsia. Those who develop preeclampsia 32 weeks or earlier are considered early onset).
How is Preeclampsia Diagnosed?
Pre-eclampsia is diagnosed when a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure (two separate readings taken at least 6 hours apart of 140/90 or more) and 300 mg of protein in a 24-hour urine sample (proteinuria). A rise in baseline blood pressure (BP) of 30 mmHg systolic or 15 mmHg diastolic, while not meeting the absolute criteria of 140/90, is still considered important to note, but is not considered diagnostic. Swelling or edema (especially in the hands and face) was originally considered an important sign for a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia, but in current medical practice only hypertension  and proteinuria are necessary for a diagnosis. Pitting edema (unusual swelling, particularly of the hands, feet, or face, notable by leaving an indentation when pressed on) can be significant, and should be reported to a health care provider.
“Severe preeclampsia” involves a BP over 160/110, and additional symptoms.
Pre-eclampsia may progress to eclampsia, characterized by the appearance of tonic-clonic seizures. This happens only very rarely with proper treatment.
Although eclampsia is potentially fatal, pre-eclampsia is often asymptomatic, and so its detection depends on signs or investigations. Nonetheless, one symptom is crucially important because it is often misinterpreted. The epigastric pain, which reflects hepatic involvement and is typical of the HELLP syndrome, may easily be confused with heartburn, a very common problem of pregnancy. It can be distinguished from heartburn when it is not burning in quality, does not spread upwards towards the throat, is associated with hepatic tenderness, may radiate through to the back, and is not relieved by giving antacids. It is often very severe, described by sufferers as the worst pain they have ever experienced. Affected women are not uncommonly referred to general surgeons as suffering from an acute abdomen (for example, acute cholecystitis).
Treatment for Preeclampsia:
The only known treatments for pre-eclampsia is delivery, typically by labor induction or Caesarean section. Do note, post-partum preeclampsia may occur for up to 6 weeks following delivery.
Have you experienced Preeclampsia? Tell us about your experience.