Type of disease: Rare conditions

Preeclampsia is a disorder that only affects pregnant women. The condition is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are seen in 5-8% of pregnancies. Symptoms of preeclampsia include swelling, sudden weight gain, problems with vision and severe headaches, though symptoms will differ depending on the patient and some women will exhibit no symptoms. Preeclampsia is a serious condition. The high blood pressure, if untreated, may damage the pregnant woman’s kidneys, and potentially other organs such as the liver and brain. When preeclampsia damage causes seizures the condition is called “eclampsia.” In addition to harming the pregnant woman, preeclampsia-eclampsia can harm the developing baby. With proper prenatal care, preeclampsia can be diagnosed early and treated. Preeclampsia is detected by measuring protein in the mother’s urine, a sign of kidney damage. If the pregnancy is to term, or almost to term, labor is often induced or a cesarean section performed. If the pregnancy is still in its early or middle stages, medication, bed rest, and other treatments will often be prescribed to help control the mother’s blood pressure and treat symptoms until the baby can be safely delivered. Once the baby is delivered, preeclampsia usually goes away very quickly. Risk factors for developing preeclampsia include women with chronic hypertension, who are obese, who are under 20 or over 40 years of age, who are pregnant with more than one baby, and who have preexisting health problems, such as diabetes. The cause of preeclampsia is unknown, but researchers have produced a number of theories about the condition. (See also Eclampsia and Gestational hypertension.)

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