This article appears in Fall Healthy Living 2018.
A common pregnancy complication, preeclampsia is also a leading cause of maternal death. A recent report by ProPublica called out trusted health sources for offering “incomplete, imprecise, outdated and sometimes misleading information” about the condition.
Preeclampsia has been in the news lately after Beyonce revealed she suffered from toxemia, another term for preeclampsia, while pregnant with twins. The condition left her swollen and on bed rest for a month, and she told Vogue magazine that it led to an emergency Cesarean section last year.
“Preeclampsia can happen to any pregnant woman, any pregnancy,” said Eleni Tsigas, chief executive officer of the Preeclampsia Foundation, which ProPublica consulted with for its report. “Preeclampsia is a serious disease related to high blood pressure that can happen to any pregnant woman during the second half of her pregnancy or up to six weeks after delivery. In the United States, preeclampsia impacts one in every 12 pregnancies.”
Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders in pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death, Tsigas said.
“Risks to the mother include seizures, stroke, organ damage and death. Risks to the baby are premature birth, growth restriction and death,” she said.
Sorting out the facts
Part of the problem that ProPublica reported was the misinformation available online that preeclampsia only occurs during pregnancy and that delivery is a cure for preeclampsia.
After being contacted by ProPublica, some online sites such as those for Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health Publishing reviewed and updated content.
“Any woman can develop preeclampsia after her baby is born, whether she experienced high blood pressure during her pregnancy or not. Sleep deprivation, postpartum depression, more attention on the newborn and a lack of familiarity with normal postpartum experiences all contribute to more easily ignoring or missing indicators of a problem,” Tsigas said.
Early recognition and reporting of symptoms is key to detection and management of preeclampsia. Women should contact their doctor or midwife right away if they experience symptoms that include swelling of the hands and face, especially around the eyes; weight gain of more than 5 pounds a week; persistant headache that isn’t relieved by medication; changes in vision; nausea; upper right belly pain and difficulty breathing.
After delivery mothers need to continue to monitor their health and contact their health care provider if they experience any symptoms, Tsigas said.
The condition can develop gradually or have a sudden onset, flaring up in a matter of hours even though the signs and symptoms may have gone undetected for weeks or months, Tsigas said.
Some women with preeclampsia when pregnant continue to have high blood pressure afterward.
“A recent study showed that one year after delivery, 42 percent of women who experienced severe preeclampsia still had high blood pressure. Treat the high blood pressure until it resolves, which may be weeks, months or years,” Tsigas said.
Those at risk
Risk factors include a family history of preeclampsia, high blood pressure or heart disease and diabetes, as well as:
— First pregnancy
— Preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
— Kidney disease
— Age over 35 or under 20
— High blood pressure before pregnancy
— Diabetes before or during pregnancy
— Multiple gestations (twins, triplets)
— Obesity (a body mass index over 30)
— Lupus or other autoimmune disorders
— Some blood clotting disorders
— Polycystic ovarian syndrome
— In vitro fertilization
— Sickle cell disease
For more information, visit preeclampsia.org.