Pregnancy: Preeclampsia and Eclampsia

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

What are complications of preeclampsia and eclampsia?

Preeclampsia reduces the amount of blood flow to the placenta and the fetus. Therefore, the baby may have delayed growth and low birth weight. Preterm delivery is also more common. Oligohydramnios a decrease in the volume of amniotic fluid is frequent accompaniment of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia increases the risk of placental abruption, or separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus. When this is severe, life-threatening bleeding and fetal death can occur.

Severe preeclampsia can affect liver and kidney function. HELLP syndrome, hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets, is a rare complication of preeclampsia. Symptoms include headache, nausea and vomiting, and right upper quadrant abdominal pain. In some cases, HELLP syndrome develops before the typical signs of preeclampsia are apparent. Other uncommon complications of preeclampsia and eclampsia include decreased blood flow to the brain, resulting in a stroke.

Can preeclampsia and eclampsia be prevented?

There is no way known to prevent preeclampsia and eclampsia. However, the outcome can be improved with prompt recognition and management, so it is important for pregnant women to have routine health screenings.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for preeclampsia and eclampsia?

Most women with mild preeclampsia have good pregnancy outcomes. Eclampsia is a serious condition with about a 2% mortality (death) rate.

The recurrence risk for preeclampsia varies according to the onset and severity of the condition. Women with severe preeclampsia who had an onset of the condition early in pregnancy have the highest recurrence risk. Studies show recurrence rates of 25% to 65% for this population. Only 5% to 7% of women with mild preeclampsia will have preeclampsia in a subsequent pregnancy.

Women with preeclampsia may be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease later in life. This risk is greatest in women with early onset of severe preeclampsia. Research is ongoing to further clarify this potential risk.

Medically reviewed by Wayne Blocker, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology


Medscape. Preeclampsia.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/12/2015

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