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Preeclampsia and Eclampsia: Condition Information

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What are preeclampsia and eclampsia?

Preeclampsia and eclampsia are part of the spectrum of high blood pressure, or hypertensive, disorders that can occur during pregnancy. At the mild end of the spectrum is gestational hypertension, which occurs when a woman who previously had normal blood pressure develops high blood pressure when she is more than 20 weeks pregnant. This problem occurs without other symptoms. Typically, gestational hypertension does not harm the mother or fetus and resolves after delivery. However, about 15% to 25% of women with gestational hypertension will go on to develop preeclampsia.1

Preeclampsia is a condition that develops in women with previously normal blood pressure at 20 weeks of pregnancy or greater and includes increased blood pressure (levels greater than 140/90), increased swelling, and protein in the urine. The condition can be serious, and, if it is severe enough to affect brain function, causing seizures or coma, it is called eclampsia.

One of the serious complications of hypertensive disorders in pregnancy is HELLP syndrome, when a pregnant woman with preeclampsia or eclampsia sustains damage to the liver and blood cells. The letters in the name HELLP stand for the following problems:

  • H - Hemolysis, in which oxygen-carrying red blood cells break down
  • EL - Elevated Liver enzymes, showing damage to the liver
  • LP - Low Platelet count, in which the cells responsible for stopping bleeding are low

  1. Saudan, P., Brown, M. A., Buddle, M. L., & Jones, M. (1998). Does gestational hypertension become pre-eclampsia? British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 105, 1177–1184. [top]

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