Eclampsia and Preeclampsia – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Preeclampsia
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Pregnancy is a good thing as it is the process that births a new life, brings a whole new human into the world. However, when complications begin to arise, a good thing can quickly become a source of concern.

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Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs during pregnancy. It mostly causes elevated blood pressure, sometimes leading to hypertension as well as damages to other organs in the body, most especially the liver and the kidneys.

This condition often occurs during or after the 20th week of pregnancy, and most times, these women aren’t aware, and this is because their blood pressure, which was once normal, can immediately shoot up even without any stressful activity.

This is one of the most complicated conditions that can occur during pregnancy and, if left untreated, can cause serious damages, which may become fatal to either the woman or the infant or even to both parties.

Doctors often recommend immediate delivery if a condition of Preeclampsia occurs during pregnancy, and even after that, you might not be out of the danger zone yet as it may take a while before you get better unless it is caught early.

Preeclampsia can confuse the doctors, especially when the baby is still too young and immature to be born. Hence, most times, it is often a case of either deliver the premature child and risk losing the child, but the woman survives, or the woman carries the child, full-term and risks losing both her life and that of the baby even after a full term.

Although it is a rare condition with recorded cases not up to a 100, doctors have reported that some women experience postpartum Preeclampsia. This is a condition that occurs after the delivery of the baby.

Eclampsia, on the other hand, is a condition that follows Preeclampsia. This condition occurs as a result of a severe complication of Preeclampsia.

It is a condition in which high blood pressure during pregnancy results in seizures. Although this condition is rare(according to research, it affects 1 in about 200 women who have Preeclampsia); however, it can be fatal whenever it occurs.

You may be wondering what seizures are? Seizures occur when the brain activity becomes disturbed, and it can cause the patient to begin to have episodes in which they stare into space. They also experience decreased alertness, as well as convulsions.

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What causes Pre-Eclampsia?

The causes of Preeclampsia are found in a lot of factors. Some experts do believe that the significant causes of Preeclampsia begin right from the placenta(the organ that forms the connection between mother and child).

Other experts do think that the causes of Preeclampsia are not from the placenta; instead, it is from the endothelial lining of the uterus.

However, other experts do think that the exact causes are not known, but some factors do play a role. Factors such as genetics and age have been seen to play a role in the development of Preeclampsia.

Women who have Preeclampsia have been seen to have a malfunctioning in their circulatory system. This means that somewhere along the line in their bodies, their blood vessels have become clogged, or are underdeveloped.

Hence, when it is time for hormone signaling, these blood vessels begin to react differently than the healthy blood vessels as such, causing a limited amount of blood to pass through them.

Hence, it has been agreed that the causes of Preeclampsia have been attributed to the following factors:

  1. Insufficient flow of blood to the uterus.
  2. Damage to the blood vessels that supply the uterus, and the placenta
  3. Genetic factors
  4. Autoimmune problems which occur when the immune system begins to act against the body.

Although Preeclampsia is symbolized by elevated blood pressure, however, there are other causes of high blood pressure that can result in Preeclampsia. These causes may include:

1. Gestational hypertension

Generational hypertension is said to occur when the woman has elevated blood pressure; however, there is no damage to any of her organs, and as such, there is no protein in her urine neither is there any elevated levels of protein in her blood.

Eventually, if left untreated, gestational hypertension will result in Preeclampsia.

2. Chronic hypertension

A woman is said to have chronic hypertension when she starts having elevated levels of blood pressure even before she got pregnant or had developed it before the 20th week of pregnancy.

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Most doctors find it difficult diagnosing this disease, and this is because generally, high blood pressure has no symptoms, and sometimes, it is only natural for a woman who is pregnant to have slightly increased blood pressure.

3. Chronic hypertension with superimposed Preeclampsia

This is a condition that mostly affects women who have high blood pressure before pregnancy, and also during pregnancy. These women tend to have Preeclampsia, thereby causing problems with their internal organs, especially the liver and kidneys.

This will then lead to the woman having hyperproteinuria, hyperproteinemia, or other health complications while she is pregnant.

What then causes Eclampsia?

Eclampsia is a condition that occurs after Preeclampsia; hence, we can say that Preeclampsia causes Eclampsia.

However, recent research has shown that when there is a high level of protein in the blood(hyperproteinemia), there is a tendency of Preeclampsia to occur and almost immediately Eclampsia.

Generally, one of the problems caused by Preeclampsia is kidney failure. Hyperprotenemia or proteinuria(which occurs when there are high levels of protein in the urine) are all side effects of kidney failure, and as such, this can cause Eclampsia.

What are the symptoms of Preeclampsia

Sometimes, Preeclampsia usually develops without showing any signs. On the other hand, hypertension may develop slowly over time; however, in some cases, it begins with a sudden onset.

This means that one day, your blood pressure may be normal, and the next, your blood pressure may have skyrocketed.

Little wonder why one of the important things to monitor during antenatal care is the rate of blood pressure increase. This is because one of the first signs, which also happens to be the most significant one, is an elevated level of blood pressure.

The normal blood pressure is 120/80mmhg with a range of 100-120mmhg/60-80mmhg. Any blood pressure that starts to indicate 140/90mmhg or above is an abnormal one, and this is an indication of high blood pressure popularly known as hypertension.

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Asides the increased blood pressure, there are some other vital signs you should take note of, which can indicate Preeclampsia. They include;

  1. Increased level of protein in the urine leading to hyperproteinuria
  2. Painful headaches
  3. The patient will exhibit rapid weight gain, which is mostly as a result of the easy retention of fluid by the body tissues. This will, in turn, lead to body heaviness and also, high blood pressure
  4. The patient will experience severe abdominal pains, which can be as a result of pressure against the internal organs.
  5. Due to the damages that may have occurred to the kidneys, the patient will experience little or no flow of urine, which will also lead to retention of several unwanted electrolytes in the body, hypertension, and so on.
  6. The patient will experience several changes in her vision
  7. The patient will experience a condition known as thrombocytopenia, which is a result of the decreased number of platelets found within the blood of the patient. This will, therefore, lead to the inability of the blood to form clots after bleeding.
  8. The patient will experience decreased functionality of the liver as a result of liver damage.
  9. The patient in an advanced condition will experience shortness of breath, which is as a result of the presence of fluid within the lungs. This can cause the patient to begin to gasp for breath.

What are the risk factors associated with Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that mostly arises as a complication of pregnancy; however, there are some predisposing factors that will likely put you at risk if you ignore them. They include:

1. A history of Preeclampsia

Once you notice that in your family, ladies who get pregnant tend to have some complications with their pregnancies, such as Preeclampsia, then you must realize that you are at risk of having difficulties when you become pregnant.

2. A history of high blood pressure

If you have high blood pressure that is severe or chronic as the case may be, then you should understand that during pregnancy, your chances of having Preeclampsia has just significantly increased.

3. First pregnancy

If this is your first pregnancy, congratulations. But in the midst of all that excitement, remember that you may be at risk of developing Preeclampsia.

4. New paternity

Research has shown that getting pregnant with the same partner reduces the chance of Preeclampsia.

Hence, this means that for every new pregnancy that you have with a new partner, you are increasing your chances of developing this complication and, as such, putting yourself at risk.

5. Age

Age has been seen to be related to major pregnancy complications and Preeclampsia isn’t left out of the package.

For women older than 40, the chances of developing this condition is about 70%. However, for women who are too young to deliver or get pregnant but do it anyway(girls under 18years) also have almost a 60% increased chance of developing this condition.

6. Obesity

Developing Preeclampsia while being obese and pregnant isn’t a combination you should try. In other words, the chances of developing Preeclampsia when obese is significantly high.

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7. Race

Research has shown that black women are much more at risk of developing Preeclampsia or Eclampsia than women who are Asians, or of other races.

8. Multiple pregnancies

As much as multiple pregnancies bring joy and happiness to their families, they tend to bring along complications as well. If you are pregnant with twins, triplets, quads and so on, there is a risk of you developing Preeclampsia.

9. Intervals between pregnancy

Deciding to space your pregnancies isn’t a bad thing, in fact, most doctors advice it. However, what you should know is that if you give too little space or too much space in between pregnancies, it might lead to complications.

If you are deciding to have your babies with spaces less than two years or with spaces greater than ten years, then you stand a higher chance of developing Preeclampsia.

10. History of some certain disease conditions

Having some certain illnesses before pregnancy can cause complications for a woman during pregnancy. Some disease conditions such as chronic high blood pressure, diabetes either type 1 or type 2, kidney diseases such as kidney failures, kidney stones and so on.

Thrombocytopenia, lupus and the tendency to always form clots of blood even inside the body can cause Preeclampsia to occur.

What are the complications that occur during Preeclampsia?

Complications can arise in pregnancy due to Preeclampsia. Doctors have seen that the earlier Preeclampsia occurs during your pregnancy and the more severe it is, the more the amount of complications that can happen and that means the higher the risk for both mother and child.

Sometimes, when there is nothing more the doctors can do, delivery by caeserian section may just be about necessary. In fact, most women whom have had a severe form of Preeclampsia have been seen to need to be induced.

The complications that can occur as a result of Preeclampsia include:

1. Fetal growth restrictions

One problem that is caused by Preeclampsia is the blockage of arteries that run from the mother to the child i.e. the arteries that carry blood from the mother to the placenta.

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The placenta acts as the means of nourishment to the child and once there is no blood carrying nourishment to the placenta, the child will begin to experience slow growth.

Once this occurs, this condition which is otherwise known as fetal growth restrictions will cause low birth weight or preterm birth.

2. Preterm birth

Once a woman has a severe case of Preeclampsia, in order to save the life of both mother and child, it may become imminent for the doctors to deliver the baby prematurely.

However, once a baby is delivered preterm, there is a high risk of the baby developing some serious complications such as difficulty in breathing to to the presence of an underdeveloped pair of lungs, as well as other problems.

Once this occurs, the doctors will have no choice than to put the baby inside an incubator which is a machine that mimics the womb of his mother causing further development to occur in the baby; however, this procedure can be quite expensive and unaffordable to some women.

3. Prenatal abruption

Once a woman has Preeclampsia, there is an increased tendency that the woman might experience what is called prenatal abruption.

Prenatal abruption is a condition in which the placenta separates from the endometrial lining(internal lining) of the uterus during pregnancy or during labour.

Once this occurs, it can result into severe bleeding and can cause life threatening problems for both mother and child.

4. The HELLP syndrome

The HELLP syndrome is a severe form of Preeclampsia which can rapidly turn things down south for both you and your baby. The HELLP syndrome is a combination of three different diseases all rolled up in one.

These diseases include hemolysis (which occurs when there is a massive destruction of the red blood cells), the increased presence of liver enzymes within the blood stream which is an indication of damages to the liver, and low platelet count.

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This condition is considered quite dangerous because this syndrome gives an indication that many organs are failing at the same time. This condition sometimes comes with no warning.

This means that it can come up suddenly, even before hypertension occurs and it may not give any symptoms before its onset.

However when it does come with symptoms, they may be nausea, vomiting, severe pains in upper right abdominal region as well as massive headaches.

5. Eclampsia

Eclampsia is a complication of Preeclampsia. When there is no immediate treatment given to a woman who has Preeclampsia, there is a high tendency that she would have Eclampsia. A woman who generally had Eclampsia will have the symptoms of Preeclampsia plus another new symptom which is seizures.

Doctors find it very difficult to predict what type of Preeclampsia can turn into Eclampsia. Generally, there are no warning signs that will let you know that there is a switch from Preeclampsia to Eclampsia and as such, most times, when this condition is detected, it becomes too late.

Eclampsia can become life threatening for both mother and child and as such, when this condition is discovered, it is usually recommended for the woman to undergo emergency delivery.

6. Cardiovascular diseases

A condition such as Preeclampsia can cause an increased risk of developing heart diseases in the future. This is because a blockage in the flow of blood during pregnancy can entirely alter the circulation and may cause further conditions such as blood clot within the artery, embolism and so on.

7. Organ damages

One of the major problems caused by Preeclampsia is the damage of organs most especially the liver and the kidneys.

Asides these two organs, organs such as the eye, the lungs, the heart as well as the brain(in severe cases such as Eclampsia). The extent of damage on the organ(s) depends on the severity of the Preeclampsia.

Is there a way to prevent Preeclampsia?

Researchers have continued in their search to prevent this condition from occurring, however, they haven’t been able to come up with a strategic plan that can help you prevent this.

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However, they have been able to see that a few changes in the lifestyle practices of the woman have been seen to help in reducing the tendencies of developing this condition.

1. Exercise

Exercise has been seen to be good for a pregnant woman. Exercise has helped to increase the blood flow as well as it helps it to circulate properly. Also, exercise helps you lose weight and loss of weight is good for both you and your baby.

2. Take low dose aspirin

Once you have been seen to be at risk of developing Preeclampsia, your doctor will most likely prescribe low dose aspirin for you to take. However, do not take this drug on your own. Instead, ensure that you visit your doctor to discuss your complains.

3. Calcium supplements

Calcium supplements have somehow been seen to help women who may have calcium deficiency before and during pregnancy prevent Preeclampsia.

4. Always attend your prenatal sessions

Once you are pregnant, it is necessary to ensure that you enroll yourself into an antenatal class as it will help doctors monitor the changes in your body as well as the development of your baby.

Sources;

Preeclampsia
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Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker
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