One of the most common causes of premature delivery and decreased intrauterine growth of the fetus, preeclampsia is a condition of hypertension, albuminuria, and edema. It occurs in up to 5% of pregnancies. Although severe edema suggests the presence of preeclampsia, many women will have lesser amounts of edema as a normal finding in the third trimester of pregnancy and edema, by itself, does not indicate either the presence of or risk for preeclampsia. Albuminuria and hypertension require a doctor’s evaluation and screening for these are part of the prenatal visit.
The cause of preeclampsia is not known and there is no specific treatment. The only way to stop the progression of preeclampsia is to deliver the baby. In some women treatment with magnesium sulfate, bed rest and other therapy slow the progression sufficiently to allow the baby a few more weeks of maturation before delivery is required. In other women, despite these measures, delivery is needed emergently. In some women, even after delivery, preeclampsia may continue or worsen for a few days to a week or more. If not adequately addressed it can progress to kidney failure, seizures in the mother (eclampsia) and other serious problems.
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