The pathophysiology of preeclampsia is poorly understood. We still do not know what causes it in a pregnant woman.

Whether mild or severe, the known causes remain unknown. A number of maternal, paternal, and fetal factors have been blamed for its development. But, we still have not been able to pin down the reasons that cause the symptoms.

Some risk factors have been identified though, which make you a potential candidate.

Preeclampsia was, therefore, once called “the disease of theories,” but the advancement of research in the past ten years have yielded breakthroughs that may help us improve the diagnosis and even prediction, and lead to proper prevention and definite treatments.

Formerly, it was believed to be due to a toxin and that is why preeclampsia was earlier called toxemia. But, that theory has been disproved. It was also referred to as pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Another reference for high blood pressure during pregnancy after 20 weeks is gestational hypertension. It differs from preeclampsia in that there is no protein present in the urine, which is a proven sign of this condition.

Possible causes include

Abnormal placental placement 

Abnormal placental placement of the uterus leads to insufficient placental blood flow, ischemia, and widespread maternal endothelial dysfunction. This is considered the most speculated likely cause of preeclampsia.

Scientists speculate that narrowing of the blood vessels of the placenta causes a problem with the development of the placenta due to restricted blood flow. This causes the restricted growth of the fetus.

Why the blood vessels develop differently is not known, but the following factors are suspected to be responsible:

  • damage to the blood vessels
  • reduced blood flow to the uterus
  • some problems with the immune system
  • genetic reasons

Genetic causes

Research is underway to study whether the variations that take place in genes concerned with fluid balance, vascular endothelium function or development of the placenta play a role in the development of preeclampsia or its severity.

Environmental factors

An Australian study concluded that pregnant women with high exposure to traffic air pollution during their period of pregnancy were at an increased risk of developing this pregnancy complication.

Nutritional factors

Deficiency of minerals such as copper, zinc, magnesium, and selenium can cause a functional deficiency of vitamin B. Ensuring a normal copper/zinc balance can help prevent pregnancy condition.

Maternal immunology and autoimmune disorders

Immunological disorders in the mother such as Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) is another speculated cause. According to BMJ, APS increases the relative risk of pre-eclampsia by almost nine times.

Causes of early preeclampsia before 20 weeks

Though causes of early preeclampsia are poorly understood, early onset before 20 weeks is associated with molar pregnancy, triploidy, Cushing syndrome and antiphospholipid syndrome.

Causes of eclampsia after delivery

Similarly, why preeclampsia sets in after childbirth is not known. However, it is believed that postpartum preeclampsia develops during pregnancy but shows its signs and symptoms after delivery.

Postpartum eclampsia is very rare and though the baby is not endangered, 80% of the women die postpartum.


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