Eclampsia (e-klamp’-se-ah), or toxemia of pregnancy, is a disorder that occurs in two forms. Preeclampsia of late pregnancy is characterized by increased blood pressure, edema, and proteinuria (protein in the urine). The cause is unknown. If unsuccessfully treated, it may develop into eclampsia, a far more serious disorder that may lead to convulsions and coma. Both infant and maternal mortality are high in eclampsia. Rapid termination of the pregnancy by Cesarean section may be indicated.
An ectopic pregnancy is the implantation of a preembryo anywhere other than in the uterus. A common site is in a uterine tube. Treatment involves surgical removal of the embryo.
A miscarriage is a spontaneous abortion. Most miscarriages occur within the first twelve weeks of development as a result of gross abnormalities of the embryo or placenta. Another cause is the untimely transfer of the production of estrogens and progesterone from the corpus luteum to the placenta at approximately 12 weeks of development.
Morning sickness is characterized by nausea and vomiting upon getting up in the morning. It usually starts around the sixth week of the pregnancy and typically lasts from one to six weeks. The exact cause is unknown, though high levels of hCG and progesterone in the blood are believed to play a role. About 60% of pregnant women experience this discomfort.
Birth defects may be inherited or may be caused by a variety of teratogens (ter-ah’-to-jens), environmental agents that produce physical abnormalities during prenatal development. Teratogens include alcohol, illegal drugs, some therapeutic drugs, X-rays, and certain diseases such as German measles (Rubella). Generally, the earlier the embryo is exposed, the greater the defect produced. Alcohol is the most common teratogen. It produces fetal alcohol syndrome, which is characterized by a small head; mental retardation; facial deformities; and abnormalities of the heart, genitals, and limbs.
Physiological jaundice, a postnatal disorder, sometimes occurs in a newborn because the destruction of RBCs occurs faster than the liver can process the bilirubin. This results in excess bilirubin in the blood. Phototherapy (exposure to UV light) is a common treatment to speed up bilirubin breakdown. Jaundice may be a more serious problem in premature infants. This type of jaundice usually resolves once the newborn’s liver gains full function.
Infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS), or hyaline membrane disease, is a postnatal disorder characterized by an inability to produce surfactant within the lungs of an infant. The lack of surfactant decreases the ability of the infant to successfully inflate its lungs during inspiration. IRDS is most common in premature infants, whose lungs have not yet begun or have not completed surfactant production.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or “crib death,” is a postnatal disorder characterized by the sudden death of an infant with no medical history or explanation upon autopsy. Infants are at highest risk of SIDS during sleep and, though its exact cause is unknown, risk factors such as hypoxia while sleeping, deficits in respiratory control, and nicotine exposure during development have been identified.