Failure to Diagnose Preeclampsia

Pre-eclampsia (also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension) is a pregnancy complication involving high maternal blood pressure, proteinuria (protein in the urine) and, often, edema (swelling).  If not timely diagnosed and treated, it may develop into eclampsia which can cause tonic-clonic seizures, cortical blindness, liver failure and maternal death.

Pre-eclampsia can develop as early 20 weeks gestation.  If diagnosed between 20 weeks and 32 weeks gestation the condition is known as early-onset.  Pre-eclampsia may also be diagnosed between 32 weeks gestation and term, and up to 6 weeks post-partum.  In most cases, pre-eclampsia is diagnosed through repeat blood pressure readings (6 hours apart) and/or a 24 hour urine catch.  If a pregnant mother's blood pressure tests above 140/90 and/or she has more than 300 mg of protein in her urine, she should be followed closely for eclampsia and labor complications, such as intrauterine growth retardation, placental abruption and/or fetal distress from toxemia.

Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are more common in first pregnancies with young mothers.  Other risk factors for pre-eclampsia include:
  • pre-existing maternal vascular disease (e.g., hypertension, diabetes);
  • thrombophilic disease;
  • multiple gestation (e.g., twins, triplets); and
  • family history of pre-eclampsia (e.g., mother, sister).
Pre-eclampsia occurs only when there is a placenta and resolves when the placenta is removed.  Therefore, early treatment of elevated maternal blood pressure and seizures is critical because advanced pre-eclampsia may require delivery of the fetus by cesarean section in order to prevent maternal mortality (death).  Where a fetus is delivered before term, there may be complications with brain development (e.g., cerebral palsy), digestion and respiration.  Generally, babies born early in pregnancy are at greater risk for lifelong health problems.

To discuss your case or concerns with an experienced Central New York medical malpractice and birth injury attorney, contact us now at (315) 422-3466, (800) 336-LAWS, or by e-mail at