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Preeclampsia is defined as the combination of high blood pressure (hypertension), swelling (edema), and protein in the urine (albuminuria, proteinuria) developing after the 20th week of pregnancy.1 Preeclampsia ranges in severity from mild to severe; the mild form is sometimes called proteinuric pregnancy-induced hypertension2 or proteinuric gestational hypertension.3
Women with even mild preeclampsia must be monitored carefully by a healthcare professional. Hospitalization may be necessary to enable close observation.4
The cause of preeclampsia is unknown, although several factors have been shown to contribute.5, 6 Preeclampsia is more common in women during their first pregnancy,7 as well as in women who are obese,8, 9 who have diabetes,10 or who have gestational hypertension.11, 12, 13 Women who have had preeclampsia during a previous pregnancy are also at increased risk.14 Preeclampsia has also been associated with calcium deficiencies,15antioxidant deficiencies,16, 17, 18 older maternal age,19 and job stress.20, 21, 22
Symptoms, which typically appear after the 20th week of pregnancy, include swelling of the face and hands, visual disturbances, headache, and high blood pressure. In severe preeclampsia, symptoms are more pronounced. Jaundice may also be present. Severe preeclampsia may lead to seizures (eclampsia) and may cause death to both mother and fetus if left untreated.23 Like eclampsia, severe preeclampsia is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization.24, 25
Regular prenatal care is essential for the prevention and early detection of preeclampsia.
Job stress (lack of control over work pace and the timing and frequency of breaks) may be detrimental, and reducing job stress may be beneficial in the prevention of preeclampsia.26 In a preliminary study, women exposed to high job stress were found to be at greater risk of developing preeclampsia and, to a lesser extent, gestational hypertension than were women exposed to low job stress. In this study, evaluation of job stress was based on scores assessing on-the-job psychological demand and decision-making latitude. High stress was defined as high psychological demand with low decision latitude, and low stress was defined as low-demand, high-latitude.27
For women with preeclampsia, obstetricians and midwives often recommend bed rest and lying on the left side; this position helps reduce edema and lower blood pressure by increasing urinary output.28However, a review of clinical trials concluded that bed rest can significantly worsen pregnancy-induced hypertension.29 Women with preeclampsia should discuss the pros and cons of bed rest with their doctors.
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2017.