Preeclampsia is a leading killer of pregnant women and a major contributor to maternal and fetal morbidity. Occurring in 6-8% of pregnant women, it is diagnosed after the 20th week of pregnancy by the new onset of high blood pressure and either elevated protein in the urine, or pulmonary edema, cerebral or visual symptoms, low platelets, or specific signs of kidney or liver dysfunction. Although most affected pregnancies deliver at or close to term with good outcomes, women with preeclampsia are at an increased risk for life-threatening events, including stroke and grand mal seizures (eclampsia). Because of these potential outcomes, a key aspect of routine prenatal care is monitoring pregnancies for signs and symptoms of preeclampsia.
Even if preeclampsia is detected in a timely manner, however, delivery remains the only cure. Consequently, women with preeclampsia may need to be delivered prematurely to stop disease progression. This makes preeclampsia an important cause of premature births and early neonatal deaths. In addition, the American Heart Association and the American Stroke association recently identified preeclampsia as an independent risk factor for cardiac disease and stroke in women even decades after an affected pregnancy; it was estimated that preeclampsia doubles the risk of stroke and quadruples the risk of developing hypertension in later life, even if blood pressure returns to normal after delivery. Previously, the negative effects of preeclampsia were thought to resolve after pregnancy.