Pre-eclampsia is a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. Two other symptoms, proteinuria and edema (generalized fluid retention or swelling), complete the classic triad of pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is much more common in the first pregnancy (3-5% of births) and usually becomes evident in the third trimester (always after the 20th week of pregnancy).
Pre-eclampsia is thought to be caused by mysterious toxins secreted by the placenta acting on the vascular endothelium. If severe, it progresses to fulminant pre-eclampsia, with headaches and visual disturbances.
This is a prelude to eclampsia, an extreme form of pre-eclampsia characterized by seizures or coma in a patient with no previous neurological history. Eclampsia affects less than 1% of all pregnancies.
Eclampsia is a life threatening condition, not only for the developing fetus but for the mother as well.
The only treatment for eclampsia, or advancing pre-eclampsia is delivery, either by induction or Caesarean section. Women can be stabilized temporarily with magnesium sulphate. Delivery as early as 28 weeks is not unknown.
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