Preeclampsia and Eclampsia

Nationwide Cerebral Palsy Resource Network

Preeclampsia develops during pregnancy. If left undiagnosed or untreated, preeclampsia could develop into a severe condition known as eclampsia.

Preeclampsia and eclampsia are extremely serious conditions. If your preeclampsia or eclampsia went undetected or untreated during your pregnancy, despite receiving regular prenatal care, you may wish to consider your legal options. Please call (800)462-5772 for a free consultation. Stern Law, PLLC is prepared to help you and your child.

What is preeclampsia?

The hallmark of preeclampsia is an increase in sustained periods of increased blood pressure with readings typically exceeding 140/90 mm Hg. Also, proteinuria (high urine protein levels) may be evident. The reason why protein appears in a pregnant woman’s urine is because the condition causes blood vessels to leak protein to various parts of the body, including the bladder.

Pregnant women with preeclampsia may exhibit varying signs of the condition, but the majority of expectant women experience edema, or swelling, in the legs, hands and feet. The condition usually manifests itself in the second half of pregnancy, most often in the latter half of the second or third trimesters.

What is eclampsia?

Eclampsia is an acute and life threatening disease that may cause you to experience convulsions, seizures, coma and in rare instances, your death or the death of your unborn child, or both. While there is no cure for preeclampsia and eclampsia other than the safe delivery of the baby, consulting with a doctor concerning any of the signs and symptoms of these conditions is the best way for you to protect yourself and your unborn child.

What are the causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia?

Unfortunately, the causes of preeclampsia and eclampsia remain unknown. However, researchers of these conditions suspect that poor diet, malnutrition, excess body fat, obesity, genetics, and insufficient blood flow to the uterus and placenta may be potential causes.

Who is at risk for developing preeclampsia and eclampsia?

Preeclampsia and eclampsia most often affect pregnant teenagers, women 40 years old or more, and mothers in first-time pregnancies. However, additional risk factors include:

  • Pre-pregnancy hypertension
  • A history of preeclampsia in previous pregnancies
  • Having a mother or sister who was diagnosed with preeclampsia
  • Obesity or a history of obesity
  • Carrying multiple children
  • Having a history of autoimmune disease, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Having a history of kidney disease or diabetes

What are the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia and eclampsia?

In addition to sustained periods of high blood pressure and excess protein urine levels, pregnant women may also experience the following signs and symptoms of preeclampsia or eclampsia:

  • Rapid weight gain due to severe swelling
  • Migraine-like headaches
  • Little to no urine output
  • Severe nausea, vomiting
  • Changes in reflexes
  • Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
  • Abdominal pain, especially in the upper right hand side
  • Sudden and severe swelling of the face, legs, hands and feet
  • Seizures
  • Blurry vision, the visible presence of “floaters” in the eyes, or flashing lights in the visual field
  • Coma
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Blindness
  • Death

If you are pregnant and happen to experience any of the above symptoms, it’s recommended that you speak to your doctor immediately.

How is preeclampsia and eclampsia treated?

While the definitive cure for preeclampsia and eclampsia may be delivery of your baby after sufficient development has occurred, treatment depends upon how far along you are in your pregnancy, how well your unborn child is doing in the womb, and the overall severity of the circumstances.

For those experiencing a mild case of preeclampsia, a doctor will likely prescribe some or all of the following:

  • Bed rest, either at home or in the hospital
  • Antihypertensive medications
  • Regular blood and urine tests
  • Regular fetal monitoring, ultrasounds and prenatal visits
  • Corticosteroids to aid in the development of an unborn child’s lungs
  • A low to no salt diet

For those facing moderate to severe preeclampsia or eclampsia, a doctor will likely prescribe some or all of the following, in addition to the above interventions:

  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Magnesium injections to reduce eclampsia-related seizures
  • Hospitalization to stabilize the condition
  • In the severest of cases, the immediate delivery of a child, even if not close to term

For a woman who has been diagnosed with preeclampsia or eclampsia, her condition should improve usually within one to six weeks following delivery.

How can preeclampsia and eclampsia harm my child?

If left undetected and untreated, preeclampsia and eclampsia can cause reduced and compromised blood flow to the placenta, which may result in the birth of a severely underweight child. It can also cause:

  • Developmental disabilities
  • Epilepsy
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Stillbirth, in the most severe cases

A major cause of stillbirth in women diagnosed with preeclampsia or eclampsia is placental abruption, which occurs when the placenta detaches from the uterus.

If you or your baby suffered harm due to untimely treatment of preeclampsia or eclampsia, please contact Stern Law, PLLC for a free consultation. Our phone number is (800)462-5772. We have assisted special children and their families for over 30 years with birth injury litigation, and we would be pleased to provide qualified guidance in your case.