Mark your calendars, because it’s Preeclampsia Awareness Month! This event seeks to educate the public about this potentially life-threatening condition and disseminate information regarding when pregnant women should talk to their doctors about the health risks that can accompany it.
Preeclampsia Affects a Sizeable Portion of Pregnancies
Preeclampsia (high blood pressure that appears during pregnancy, often accompanied by protein in the urine and swelling of the hands and feet) affects at least 5-8% of pregnancies and typically begins after 20 weeks’ gestation and up to six weeks after delivery. This makes the disease less uncommon than many expect and indicates the need to educate families on how to manage the condition. Moreover, conservative estimates state that hypertensive disorders (such as preeclampsia) are responsible for 76,000 maternal deaths and 500,000 infants deaths each year, making the disorder a significant cause of birth-related mortality.
Preeclampsia Signs and Symptoms
Pregnant women can sometimes identify symptoms (indicators that something is wrong) of preeclampsia, and doctors can run tests to identify clinical signs of the condition. It is important for expectant mothers to know how to identify preeclampsia. There are, however, some cases where women may have preeclampsia and not notice any external symptoms, underscoring the necessity of regular prenatal care.
Some of the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include:
- High blood pressure
- Protein in the urine
- Swelling (edema)
- Abdominal and/or lower back pain
- Sudden weight gain
- Vision issues
- Shortness of breath/anxiety
Why is Preeclampsia a Serious Condition?
Preeclampsia, if not properly controlled, can lead to very serious health issues, such as seizures during or after birth and delivery, central nervous system damage and liver and other organ failure. If improperly monitored, mothers can die of liver rupture or stroke (due to cerebral edema or cerebral hemorrhage). These can usually be prevented when caught in time.
Preeclampsia can cause health issues in the baby as well as the mother. Preeclampsia is a contributing factor to premature birth (and the health issues related to prematurity), and can also cause intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), acidosis and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
Preeclampsia can develop into HELLP Syndrome, one of the most serious forms of preeclampsia (which occurs in 5-12% of preeclampsia patients). This can lead to serious liver injury, breakdown of blood cells, and lowered blood platelet counts, necessitating transfusions. The syndrome can sometimes even appear prior to preeclampsia symptoms, and can manifest in symptoms similar to the flu. It is important to catch the condition early, as HELLP Syndrome has a global mortality rate of up to 25%.
Preeclampsia also predisposes women to have certain health conditions even after the delivery of the baby. Women with preeclampsia have a 3-4x higher risk of having high blood pressure and a doubled risk of heart disease and stroke. They also have a higher risk of developing diabetes. If women had preeclampsia and delivered preterm, or had a baby that required resuscitation after birth or that were low birthweight, the risk can be significantly higher.
Risk Mitigation with Preeclampsia
Unfortunately, there’s no way to ‘cure’ preeclampsia other than delivery of the baby and placenta. There are ways to manage risk, however. Physicians can prescribe magnesium sulfate or corticosteroids, and mothers can ensure they are in good shape prior to and during pregnancy. One of the ways that medical professionals can also reduce the risk of adverse outcomes is providing the mother with the option to have a planned C-Section delivery to avoid the development of eclampsia during birth and delivery, as well as the risks of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and brain damage due to oxygen deprivation in the baby.The exact timing of delivery is based on numerous factors (severity of the high blood pressure, how well-controlled the blood pressure is, whether there are complications such as placental abruption, and the gestational age of the baby).
The actions that doctors can take also depend on the severity of the preeclampsia. Mild or moderate preeclampsia might not be treated with antihypertensive drugs as these drugs may cause adverse effects that outweigh their benefits. Severe preeclampsia (as well as cases where there are blood pressure-related symptoms such as headache and vision issues), however, should be treated, and a plan for monitoring the pregnancy and timely delivery should be put in place.
What Does Medical Malpractice Look Like in the Context of Preeclampsia?
Proper preeclampsia management requires that physicians carefully monitor a pregnant mother and developing child. Proper care includes the correct timing and dosage of medications (if prescribed), the development of treatment and delivery plans (and C-section if necessary). If medical staff do not properly carry out the steps of managing preeclampsia, it can spell serious adverse outcomes for a mother and/or child because preeclampsia can result in birth injuries. Physicians are held to specific standards of care—if they fail to meet these standards and cause injury, they have neglected their professional duty and can be liable for medical malpractice.
Legal Help for Preeclampsia Malpractice
Parents whose children have been injured by medical malpractice deserve to know that their children will have a secure future and be able to obtain the care and therapy they need. Our trusted birth injury attorneys—who focus exclusively on birth injuries such as HIE—are reachable 24/7 at 888-419-2229 (or via live chat or contact form). We can provide you with a free case evaluation to determine whether you have a medical malpractice suit.