Preeclampsia: A condition in pregnancy characterized by abrupt hypertension (a sharp rise in blood pressure), albuminuria (leakage of large amounts of the protein albumin into the urine) and edema (swelling) of the hands, feet, and face. Preeclampsia is the most common complication of pregnancy. It affects about 5% of pregnancies. It occurs in the third trimester (the last third) of pregnancy.
Preeclampsia occurs most frequently in first pregnancies. It is more common in women who have diabetes or who are carrying twins. Some women seem to have a strong tendency to develop the disease and suffer from preeclampsia with every pregnancy. Preeclampsia is more common in daughters of women who have been affected; in many cases the disease tends to run in families.
Preeclampsia can be a sign of serious problems. It may, for example, indicate that the placenta is detaching from the uterus. In some cases, untreated preeclampsia can progress to eclampsia, a life-threatening situation for both mother and fetus characterized by coma and seizures.
Treatment is by bed rest and sometimes medication. If that treatment is ineffective, the induction of labor and delivery or a C-section may have to be considered. Preeclampsia always resolves a short time after the baby is born.
Preeclampsia is sometimes written pre-eclampsia. Preeclampsia was referred to as toxemia or toxic pregnancy.
Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016