Pre-eclampsia (US: preeclampsia) is a medical condition where hypertension arises in pregnancy (pregnancy-induced hypertension) in association with significant amounts of protein in the urine. Pre-eclampsia refers to a set of symptoms rather than any causative factor, and there are many different causes for the condition. It appears likely that there are substances from the placenta that can cause endothelial dysfunction in the maternal blood vessels of susceptible women. While blood pressure elevation is the most visible sign of the disease, it involves generalized damage to the maternal endothelium, kidneys, and liver, with the release of vasoconstrictive factors being secondary to the original damage.
Pre-eclampsia may develop from 20 weeks gestation (it is considered early onset before 32 weeks, which is associated with increased morbidity). Its progress differs among patients; most cases are diagnosed pre-term. Pre-eclampsia may also occur up to six weeks post-partum. Apart from Caesarean section or induction of labor (and therefore delivery of the placenta), there is no known cure. It is the most common of the dangerous pregnancy complications; it may affect both the mother and the unborn child. and additional symptoms.
Pre-eclampsia may progress to eclampsia, characterized by the appearance of tonic-clonic seizures. This happens only very rarely.
Although eclampsia is potentially fatal, pre-eclampsia is often asymptomatic, hence its detection depends on signs or investigations. Nonetheless, one symptom is crucially important because it is so 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. However, 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 that they have ever experienced. Affected women are not uncommonly referred to general surgeons as suffering from an acute abdomen, for example acute cholecystitis.
In general, none of the signs of pre-eclampsia is specific; even convulsions in pregnancy are more likely to have causes other than eclampsia in modern practice. Diagnosis, therefore, depends on finding a coincidence of several pre-eclamptic features, the final proof being their regression after delivery.
Some women develop high blood pressure without the proteinuria (protein in urine); this is called Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) or gestational hypertension. Both pre-eclampsia and PIH are regarded as very serious conditions and require careful monitoring of mother and fetus.
Pre-eclampsia occurs in as many as 10% of pregnancies, usually in the second or third trimester, and after the 32nd week. Some women will experience pre-eclampsia as early as 20 weeks, though this is rare. It is much more common in women who are pregnant for the first time, and its frequency drops significantly in second pregnancies. While change of paternity in a subsequent pregnancy is now thought to lower risk except in those with a family history of hypertensive pregnancy, since increasing maternal age raises risk it has been difficult to evaluate how significant paternity change actually is and studies are providing conflicting data on this point.
Pre-eclampsia is also more common in women who have preexisting hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune diseases like lupus, various inherited thrombophilias like Factor V Leiden, or renal disease, in women with a family history of pre-eclampsia, obese women, and in women with a multiple gestation (twins, triplets, and more). The single most significant risk for developing pre-eclampsia is having had pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy.
Pre-eclampsia may also occur in the immediate post-partum period. This is referred to as "postpartum pre-eclampsia." The most dangerous time for the mother is the 24–48 hours postpartum and careful attention should be paid to pre-eclampsia signs and symptoms.
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