For some reason there's a lot of threads on pregnancy over at the NaNoWriMo message board. That or I'm just more aware of all the pregnancy topics being that I'm over halfway through my second pregnancy. Either way, rather than repeating myself or just because I want to keep that information available here for other people, I'm going to cross-post my responses here. Since some of them are pretty long, I'll probably take a couple blog posts to do it.
This one was posted on October 18 in response to the thread Not knowing you're pregnant/pre-eclampsia.
The first thing with pre-eclampsia is that it starts with elevated blood pressure. For me, it didn't get above normal until I was around 30 weeks along or so. But even then, that wasn't enough to say I had pre-eclampsia.
From what I understand, a lot of women who don't know they're pregnant are on the heavier side to begin with. And the heavier your are, the less weight you're likely to put on while pregnant. And I'm pretty sure that some heavier people already have blood problems to begin with, so its not that uncommon for them to have higher blood pressure.
But having high blood pressure isn't enough to have pre-eclampsia. It's a symptom, but not the only one.
Other symptoms of pre-eclampsia include having headaches, seeing spots or having blurry vision, and swelling of your face, hands, and feet. So I'd imagine if someone came in with these symptoms, that a doctor might think to check if the woman is pregnant, but that also depends on what other conditions might share these symptoms.
Also, note that I'm not a doctor or any other type of medical personnel, just a woman who had gestational hypertension with my first pregnancy.
To determine if it's more than hypertension (high blood pressure), you have to do a protein test. For this test, they give you a large container where you have to keep all your urine for 24 hours (you also need to store the container in your fridge so the urine doesn't go bad). If you don't collect all the urine, then you have to start all over, so it's highly recommended you do it right the first time around. Once you have all the urine collected, you take it to the lab and they test it for proteins. There's something about pre-eclampsia that makes it so you can't properly process protein and that shows up in your urine. It also doesn't matter if you eat a lot of meat (have a high protein diet) or are vegetation and eat a low protein diet (like I do). (I asked about this, because I thought it might interfere with my results, but it doesn't.)
My protein test came up as negative for pre-eclampsia, but they still had me keep track of the other symptoms. I also didn't realize how much of a blimp I had become (like how swollen my face, hands, feet, and legs were) until after I had given birth and look at the birth pictures. My sister said I looked like a football player with how swollen I was.
If there is swelling, they'll suggest you go on bed rest and try to put your feet up whenever you sit down. For me, my "bed rest" was to lay down for six hours a day (in addition to sleeping at night) and this could be broken up into two hours, three times a day. They also suggested that I sleep with my feet up, which meant putting a pillow under my feet, which is a little uncomfortable when you can only sleep on your side. (Sleeping on your side only is for any pregnant woman more than 18 weeks along.)
Though just because the swelling goes down doesn't mean your blood pressure will go down. I was able to get some of the swelling down in my legs and feet, but my blood pressure still went up.
As to the differences between pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, I'm not really sure what they are. Eclampsia is more severe, but even with gestational hypertension, they still treated me as though I had eclampsia when I was in the hospital to give birth.
Actually, I think one of the biggest symptoms of eclampsia is the seizures. When I was in the hospital, they wouldn't let me watch tv, listen to music, open the window, or even turn on the lights brighter than a low lamp because they thought any of those things could give me a seizure, thus making it so I had eclampsia. They even put bumper pads on my bed and added an extra pad over the mattress to make it extra soft in case I did have a seizure.
With me, they had to induce labor because my blood pressure wasn't going down and they figured the only way it would go back down to a healthy level would be to get the baby out of my body. I was about 37 and a half weeks along. (But then 36 - 37 weeks is near-term, 38 - 40 weeks is term, and 41 - 42 weeks is post term.) I don't remember exactly what my blood pressure was, but whenever I told health care professionals what it was, they were pretty shocked/horrified by how high it was.
I don't know if there's really a length of time in which it goes from pre-eclampsia to eclampsia. I think it just depends on the woman and what are symptoms are.
I only had gestational hypertension and was induced about two and a half weeks early. I know know who had pre-eclampsia or maybe eclampsia (I didn't talk to her that much, only that when I said I only had gestational hypertension she was like oh, well that's nothing, which was kind of insulting to me because what I went through wasn't "nothing") who was induced a month early. He baby even had to spend time in an incubator whereas mine didn't.
If this were to go untreated, I don't know how long the baby could survive. But I'd imagine that a doctor or someone might get the idea to see if this woman is pregnant or not, be able to do a pregnancy test/ultrasound, and then get the woman induced if they were that afraid of her having eclampsia.
Depending on how good the hospital is (like how week equipped they are, whether they're in a large city or a small town, and whether they specialize in babies or not) depends on how long a child can survive. Like I heard about a baby surviving (I don't know how long) when it was born around 22 weeks, but it was connected to an incubator and various medical things to keep it alive. But that never would have happened at the hospital was in, because it's just smaller and not equipped to deal with a situation like that. Also, this story happened at one of the children's hospitals in the Twin Cities, which specializes in infants and children.
And if the induction doesn't work for a woman, depending on how severe the pre-eclampsia/eclampsia is, she may need to have an emergency C-section.
I don't know if I actually answered your question, but I hope you find something useful in my long post.