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Preeclampsia and Eclampsia

As a nurse, you may encounter patients with complications resulting from pregnancy. Understanding and learning more about these conditions, their risks, and how to treat them is critical to delivering excellent patient care. Among the various pregnancy conditions you encounter, preeclampsia is quite common.

To help you improve your ability to deliver great patient education and care, Fast CE For Less has created this guide discussing preeclampsia, a condition that occurs during pregnancy, and when left untreated, can progress to eclampsia. This post will discuss preeclampsia and eclampsia to help the healthcare provider achieve positive patient outcomes.

Preeclampsia Symptoms

Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs during pregnancy, and is caused by hypertension and at least one of the following symptoms:

  • Changes in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision or light sensitivity
  • Decreased levels of platelets in blood (thrombocytopenia)
  • Excess protein in urine (proteinuria) or other signs of kidney problems
  • Increased liver enzymes that indicate liver problems
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in the upper belly, usually under the ribs on the right side
  • Severe headaches
  • Shortness of breath, caused by fluid in the lungs

Preeclampsia typically occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy (although it can occur sooner) and can also occur after delivery of the baby. 

While significant research has been conducted on preeclampsia, but researchers have yet to pinpoint why it happens. Some factors that may cause it include:

  • Genetic factors; family history increases risk
  • High fat diet and poor nutrition
  • Immune function disorders
  • Insufficient blood flow to the placenta
  • Suspected to be improper functioning of placenta

Some of the risk factors associated with a higher chance of developing preeclampsia include:

  • Pregnancy after 40
  • First pregnancy
  • Having the condition in a previous pregnancy
  • Having a pregnancy with twins or more
  • Being obese
  • A history of hypertension, kidney issues, diabetes, sickle cell disease, and autoimmune conditions.
  • Pregnancy through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

Preeclampsia is unavoidable, but an early diagnosis can help healthcare providers prevent complications related to it.

Treatment for Preeclampsia

The best treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby. In most situations, the delivery prevents the condition from worsening. In addition to delivering the baby, healthcare providers will likely also administer medications to reduce an elevated blood pressure. 

What is Eclampsia?

Eclampsia is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs during pregnancy in which preeclampsia in not managed. Eclampsia is essentially a complication resulting from preeclampsia that often leads to seizures. Many women will have warning signs before having a seizure caused by eclampsia. Some of the signs include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Right upper quadrant abdominal pain  
  • Severe headaches
  • Swelling of the hands, face, or ankles
  • Trouble urinating
  • Vision changes

Eclamptic seizures can cause confusion and disorientation, and even coma, stroke, stillborn delivery, or death of the mother.

Treatment for Eclampsia

Delivering the baby and placenta about the 37th to 38th week of pregnancy is optimal, however, if the woman develops eclampsia or has severe preeclampsia symptoms, the healthcare provider will recommend delivering the baby earlier. The healthcare provider may also prescribe medications for eclampsia such as:

  • Anticonvulsant medication or magnesium sulfate infusion to prevent seizures
  • Blood pressure medication to lower blood pressure
  • Corticosteroids to help develop and strengthen the fetus’s lungs (prior to delivery)

Final Thoughts

Pregnant women are responsible for keeping themselves and their child they are carrying as healthy as possible. It requires maintaining a balanced diet, taking prenatal vitamins, and having routine prenatal care. Despite the best care, conditions like preeclampsia and eclampsia can occur during or after pregnancy.

As a nurse, you must help your patients ensure they are taking all the necessary precautions and increase their awareness of signs of pregnancy related conditions. 

If the time to renew your nursing license is close, online nursing CEUs like those offered by Fast CE For Less at www.fastceforless.com offer an excellent resource to meet your nursing continuing education requirements.

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