Preeclampsia: Separating Fact from Fiction
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Preeclampsia: Separating Fact from Fiction

Preeclampsia is a condition that is characterized by high blood pressure and signs of organ damage, typically involving the liver and kidneys that can occur during pregnancy or soon after childbirth. It can develop without you realizing it, so it is important to know the symptoms and stay informed about health issues and avoid misinformation in the media can lead to confusion and unnecessary anxiety. Let's take a closer look at preeclampsia to separate fact from fiction

Fact: Preeclampsia is a Serious Pregnancy Complication Preeclampsia affects at least 5-7% of all U.S. pregnancies, resulting in significant maternal and infant illness and death. The incidence has been ticking steadily upward with American women most likely to die of complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. This highlights the urgent need for increased awareness and proactive healthcare measures.

Fiction: Preeclampsia Always Occurs During Pregnancy While preeclampsia usually develops in the second half of pregnancy, it can also occur shortly after childbirth (postpartum preeclampsia) or, in rare cases, before 20 weeks of pregnancy (early-onset preeclampsia). Regular prenatal care and monitoring are crucial for early detection and management.

Fact: Preeclampsia is a Rapidly Progressive Condition Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. This condition can rapidly worsen, leading to risks such as brain injury, impaired kidney and liver function, blood clotting issues, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), and seizures. It also affects placental blood flow, often resulting in smaller or premature babies. When severe or left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to maternal and infant death.

This is why recognizing the signs of preeclampsia is so critical.

While many of these symptoms are common discomforts of pregnancy, it’s important to call your OB/GYN right away if you experience even one sign or symptom. 

Fact: Risk Factors for Preeclampsia Exist No one knows for sure what causes preeclampsia, but there are some things that may make you more likely to have it. It’s important to know your risk factors and inform your medical practitioner of any you might have.

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing preeclampsia, such as:

  • You’ve had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy. The earlier in pregnancy you had preeclampsia, the higher your risk is to have it again. You’re also at higher risk if you had preeclampsia along with other pregnancy complications.
  • You’re pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets or more).
  • You have high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease or an autoimmune disease like lupus or antiphospholipid syndrome. Diabetes is when your body has too much sugar in the blood. This can damage organs, like blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. An autoimmune disease is a health condition that happens when antibodies (cells in the body that fight off infections) attack healthy tissue by mistake.

Other potential risk factors include:

  • You’ve never had a baby before, or it’s been more than 10 years since you had a baby.
  • You’re a person who has obesity with a body mass index (also called BMI) of 30 or higher. 
  • You have a family history of preeclampsia.
  • You had complications in a previous pregnancy, like having a baby with low birthweight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces).
  • You had fertility treatment (IVF) to help you get pregnant. 
  • You’re older than 35.
  • You’re Black (Rates of preeclampsia are 60% higher in black people than white people. Social, cultural, genetic, and environmental factors may play a role in these rates.)

Fiction: Alternative Therapies Can Cure Preeclampsia While maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing underlying health conditions can contribute to overall well-being during pregnancy, there is no alternative therapy or cure for preeclampsia. Medical interventions and close monitoring by healthcare providers are necessary for the safety of both mother and baby.

Fact: Low-Dose Aspirin Therapy for Prevention Research suggests that low-dose aspirin therapy may reduce the risk of preeclampsia in some pregnancies. A conversation with your healthcare provider is essential to assess individual risk profiles and determine the appropriateness of aspirin therapy based on current guidelines.

It's essential for expectant parents to rely on reliable sources for information, attend regular prenatal checkups, and promptly inform healthcare providers of any worrisome symptoms. While there's no definitive test for early preeclampsia detection, careful monitoring of blood pressure and thorough lab evaluations can assist in diagnosis and care. Increasing awareness about preeclampsia is crucial for enhancing the health outcomes of mothers and babies. Through collaborative efforts to educate and support expectant parents, healthcare professionals, and the community, we can make substantial progress in preventing and managing preeclampsia, ensuring safer pregnancies overall.

For more information about preeclampsia, visit Infographic: Preeclampsia and Pregnancy.

 

Kimberley Sampson-Paine, MD, MSc, FACOG, DipABLM, DipABOM, MSCP is the Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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