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Preeclampsia: A unique human pregnancy condition

By Kizito Lubano | May 11th 2016

Preeclampsia is the most common serious medical disorder of human pregnancy. It affects both mother and her unborn baby and accounts for up to 75,000 maternal deaths worldwide each year. It usually arises during the second half of pregnancy, and can even occur some days after delivery.

In the mother, it can cause several problems such as high blood pressure, leakage of protein into the urine, thinning of the blood and liver dysfunction. Occasionally, preeclampsia can lead to convulsions which is a serious complication known as eclampsia. Also, when a pregnancy is complicated by preeclampsia, the baby may grow more slowly than normal or suffer a potentially harmful oxygen deficiency.

Over the last decade, in my practice as an obstetrician gynaecologist, I have noted a steady transition where severe preeclampsia is accompanied by serious complications such as kidney failure in the mother and intrauterine foetal demise.

Despite extensive research, medics still do not know what causes preeclampsia and this has made it known as the ‘disease of theories’. Experts, however, believe the obesity epidemic caused by dietary and environmental changes may be to blame since women who are overweight or obese are more likely to have preeclampsia.

Other risk factors include: A history of high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, or preeclampsia during a previous pregnancy. Women over 35, African women or those having multiples are also at increased risk. Genetic factors are probably involved, given women whose mothers and or sisters have suffered preeclampsia are at increased risk of the disease themselves.

There is also evidence that the placenta is involved in development of preeclampsia since the condition occurs when the placenta releases a toxin into the mother’s bloodstream damaging her organs.

The best way to minimise the harm that preeclampsia may cause in a pregnancy is to regularly attend antenatal check-ups where it becomes easier to detect it in its earliest stages.

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