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What complications result from undiagnosed preeclampsia?

Some women appear to breeze through their pregnancies with no apparent side effects, while others spend nine months battling very serious complications. One of those, preeclampsia, involves a dangerous rise in maternal blood pressure. It can be deadly if left undiagnosed and treated.

The condition was formerly called toxemia, and it is most often seen in women carrying more than one fetus and those pregnant for the first time. Other risk factors include:

-- Prior history of hypertension or kidney disease

-- Autoimmune disorders like lupus

-- Genetic link to those with preeclampsia

-- Gestational diabetes

Obstetricians must vigilantly monitor their patients' blood pressure at every visit. Determining the normal baseline blood pressure is very important because a blood pressure reading of 130/80 could indicate the condition in someone whose readings normally hover around 90/60.

Obstetricians need to be on the alert for symptoms such as:

-- Decreased urination

-- Headaches

-- Right upper quadrant abdominal pain

-- Blurred vision

-- Facial swelling or puffy hands and fingers

-- Rapid weight gain

Obstetricians who suspect preeclampsia can confirm the diagnosis with a full spectrum of blood tests that include a platelet count. Other tests that should be run are a urinalysis to check for abnormal protein levels and kidney and liver function tests.

If obstetricians ignore the symptoms, they put their patients at great risk. Untreated preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, which brings on seizures and can be fatal. Other complications include:

-- Placental abruption

-- Preterm delivery

-- HELLP syndrome that causes liver damage

Women who survive the episode are at a much higher risk for developing heart and kidney problems later in life.

Civil remedies may be available to North Carolina women through the courts if they were injured or suffered damages from undiagnosed or untreated preeclampsia.

Source: pregnancy.org, "Preeclampsia: A Closer Look," Craig L. Bissinger, MD, FACOG, accessed April. 09, 2015

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