Pregnancy Home > Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia, a condition that can occur during pregnancy, results from a narrowing of the blood vessels. Because of this narrowing, women with this condition can have decreased blood flow to the kidneys, brain, liver, retina, and placenta. Symptoms include high blood pressure, swelling of the hands and face, and protein in the urine. The only definite cure is delivering the fetus. However, if the condition occurs early in a pregnancy, treatment will involve careful monitoring of the mother and the fetus until the fetus can be delivered.

What Is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that is unique to pregnancy. Other names for it include:
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Toxemia of pregnancy
  • Acute hypertensive disease of pregnancy.
Although toxemia has sometimes been used to describe preeclampsia, this term is not completely accurate.
Preeclampsia is most common during a woman's first pregnancy, although it can occur in future pregnancies as well. This dangerous condition occurs in 3 percent to 4 percent of all pregnancies and is the leading cause of maternal and fetal death in the United States. It is also a leading cause of fetal complications, including:
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Stillbirth.
Eclampsia is a more severe form of preeclampsia that can lead to seizures and coma. Estimates place the number of women affected by eclampsia at 1 in 200 women who have preeclampsia. Eclampsia can be fatal if it's not treated quickly.

What Causes It?

While researchers do not know the specific cause or causes of preeclampsia, they do know that the result of preeclampsia is a narrowing of blood vessels. Because of this narrowing, women with this condition can experience decreased blood flow to the:
  • Liver
  • Brain
  • Retina
  • Kidneys
  • Placenta.


(Click Causes of Preeclampsia for more information.)


Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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