Preeclampsia (PIH) & Eclampsia

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What is Preeclampsia (PIH)? 

Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) is a complication of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and problems with the organs, most commonly the kidneys. Preeclampsia often develops in the 2nd trimester of pregnancy at 20 weeks gestation or greater. The best treatment for preeclampsia is to induce delivery. In more serious cases, preeclampsia is diagnosed too early in the pregnancy for delivery to take place.

If preeclampsia is left untreated, it can become dangerous and even fatal for both mother and baby. OBGYN’s offering prenatal care to pregnant women and hospital staff offering emergency care to pregnant women presenting should not rule out preeclampsia if the patient has any of the following risk factors (especially accompanied by general signs and symptoms of preeclampsia, also listed below).

Who is at Risk for Undiagnosed Preeclampsia?

In the US, preeclampsia occurs in about 1 in 25 pregnancies. Though the exact causes are not known, you have a higher risk of developing PIH if one or more of the following risk factors applies:

  • Age of 40 or above
  • Obesity
  • A pregnancy with multiples
  • History of preeclampsia in past pregnancies
  • A first pregnancy
  • A second or third pregnancy with a new partner
  • An interval between pregnancies of either less than 2 years or greater than 10 years
  • Medical history of conditions including but not limited to high blood pressure, migraines, diabetes, kidney problems, history of blood clots, or lupus

Preeclampsia Symptoms & Signs

One of the first signs of preeclampsia is a sudden rise in blood pressure that cannot be written off as a random variation (high BP would have to be consistent across readings at least 4 hours apart to be considered abnormal). Another PIH symptom is an increase in proteins in the urine. Additional signs and symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea & possibly vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Indications of problems with the kidneys, such as proteinuria
  • Vision problems or sensitivity
  • Shortness of breath
  • Thrombocytopenia
  • Sudden weight gain & sudden swelling, though these can also be a normal part of pregnancy

The above symptoms can develop gradually over the course of weeks or they can suddenly occur in a matter of hours, so it’s important to vigilantly monitor your condition if you have one or several at-risk factors.

Preeclampsia (PIH) Causes

Although the exact cause of preeclampsia is still unknown, it is believed to be related to problems with the blood vessels that supply the placenta. The placenta is an organ that develops during pregnancy and provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus. 

In women with preeclampsia, the blood vessels that supply the placenta do not develop properly, which leads to reduced blood flow to the placenta and damage to the blood vessels in other organs. Preeclampsia can be a life-threatening condition for both the mother and the baby and requires prompt medical attention.

How is Preeclampsia (PIH) Treated?

Once preeclampsia has developed, it will not go away until after birth. Depending on the severity of a pregnant woman’s symptoms, they may require immediate admission with aggressive monitoring or induction of labor.

After birth, preeclampsia will usually fade. However, there may be cases where a new mother is kept in the hospital for a few additional days following birth so doctors can monitor her blood pressure.

Consequences of Undiagnosed Preeclampsia or Failure to Properly Treat Preeclampsia

Oftentimes doctors and healthcare professionals mistake signs and symptoms of preeclampsia for regular symptoms related to pregnancy, which can appear to be similar (especially symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath, and weight gain/swelling). Unfortunately, when Preeclampsia is misdiagnosed or not addressed promptly it becomes more severe and thus more dangerous for a woman and her unborn child. Below are the consequences of Preeclampsia misdiagnosis and failures to treat Preeclampsia in a timely manner:

  • Uncontrolled Preeclampsia or a Preeclampsia misdiagnosis will lead to Eclampsia, which is a progressed version of Preeclampsia that includes seizures and severe, fatal consequences for pregnant women and their unborn babies. Delivery will be necessary in this scenario to attempt to save a pregnant woman’s life regardless of fetal age.
  • Increased risk of placental abruption, which is the detachment of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, causing potential damage to the placenta (the baby’s source of nutrients and oxygen) and major bleeding which will cause complications for both mother and baby
  • Reduction in blood flow to the placenta resulting in the inability for baby to receive vital nutrients and oxygen; this can cause pre-term birth and respiratory problems as well as lack of proper weight gain in the fetus
  • HELLP syndrome & damage to vital organs
  • Future cardiovascular problems
  • Death

The earlier that Preeclampsia is found, the better the odds will be of preventing Eclampsia. However, the earlier in a pregnancy that Preeclampsia occurs, the worse the outcome for the unborn child (since the baby cannot be delivered without compromising his or her chances of survival).

What to Do Following Preeclampsia & Resulting Eclampsia

Permanent damage and/or death due to failures to diagnose and treat Preeclampsia and the resulting Eclampsia can cause many sudden hardships for families, including but not limited to new physical, emotional, and financial challenges. While it is hard to set aside time to contact a Philadelphia or New Jersey attorney while these tragedies are taking place, it is important to keep in mind that there are time limits involved in filing a claim and taking legal action to recover compensation.

If you or a loved one has experienced a serious, permanent injury or death which you believe may have been due to the failure to promptly diagnose and/or treat Preeclampsia / Eclampsia, you may be entitled to compensation including:

  • Current and future medical bills
  • Current and future loss of wages
  • Long-term disability
  • Long-term care expenses
  • Rehabilitation
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of companionship
  • Burial expenses

Contact a Philadelphia or New Jersey Medical Malpractice Attorney

New Jersey and Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Weiss & Paarz are committed to using their knowledge and experience to help any individual or family who has suffered a severe, permanent injury or death due to medical malpractice to obtain fair compensation. We do not charge any fees to our clients unless we recover money for them. Contact us today for a case evaluation.


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