Photo Credit: Getty Images
Preeclampsia is a condition unique to pregnancy in which a mother develops hypertension often associated with signs such as water retention and protein in the urine. The mother may have symptoms such as headache, edema and visual disturbances such as blurred vision, tunnel vision or sparkles of light in her visual field. In advanced cases, she may experience pain in the upper outer quadrant of the abdomen which signifies liver involvement.
In extreme cases, the woman may have seizures. Mothers and babies can die as a result of severe preeclampsia.
Typically, but not in every case, this condition develops in mothers who are having their first baby and it tends to occur toward the end of their pregnancy ( after 20 weeks). The incidence ranges between 10 and 14 percent in first time mothers and between 5 and 7 percent in mothers who have already had at least one child. Once you've had preeclampsia, you are at a slightly higher risk with subsequent pregnancies. Multifetal gestation also puts a woman at higher risk.
We don't know what causes this condition but we are learning much about it and its various subtypes each day. In its extreme form, a mother can develop liver failure. The platelets which are essential for blood clotting can drop and her kidneys may fail. This is called "HELLP Syndrome" and can be disastrous for both mother and baby if not identified soon enough. Often delivery, even of a preterm baby, is the only way to stop the progress of this condition. Mothers who experience seizures have progressed to "eclampsia" and need to be treated in a high risk obstetrical unit.