Preeclampsia, which is also referred to as toxemia, is a disorder that afflicts approximately 5% of pregnant women. It is a complex disorder characterized by high blood pressure and high protein levels found in the urine. Pregnant women most commonly develop preeclampsia after their 37th week, but preeclampsia can also show up at any point during the second half of pregnancy, during labour and even after delivery. The associated risks to both mother and baby increase in severity the earlier preeclampsia develops, due mainly to the fact that the only way in which preeclampsia is cured is to deliver the baby.
Since preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure, this results in a reduction of blood flow to the uterus, which can have devastating consequences for an unborn baby’s health. Reduced blood flow to the uterus can cause poor fetal growth, placental abruption (where the placenta detaches itself from the uterine wall) and/or insufficient levels of amniotic fluid within the womb. Additionally, preeclampsia may cause edema. Edema, or swelling, is caused when capillaries and blood vessels leak into other body tissues. Leakages from blood vessels located in the kidneys causes protein levels in the urine to rise, which often serves as an indicator for preeclampsia. In many cases babies must be delivered prematurely, which in itself has many associated risks to both mother and baby.
Health risks associated with preeclampsia include women with pre-existing high blood pressure before pregnancy, chronic hypertension, blood clotting disorders, obesity, women younger than 20 or older than 40, having close relatives who have suffered from preeclampsia, diabetes, kidney disease and various autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
The onset of preeclampsia can be very sudden and symptoms associated with the disorder can vary from woman to woman. Apart from high protein levels in urine, preeclampsia can also lead to seizures (known as eclampsia), nausea, swelling, weight gain, vomiting, upper abdominal pain, migraines, light sensitivities, blurred vision and mental disorientation.