Despite our tremendous medical advances, maternal death rates in the United States have more than doubled since 1980. An ever present threat is a rare but devastating condition called Preeclampsia which is responsible for an estimated 10 – 15% of maternal deaths world wide.
Preeclampsia is a dangerous pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure that can cause a mother’s blood pressure to rise and put her at risk of brain injury. We don’t yet know what exactly causes the onset of preeclampsia but we do know that it can impair kidney and liver function, cause blood clotting problems, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), seizures and, in severe forms or left untreated, maternal and infant death.
Preeclampsia is treatable by medical professionals, requires a medical diagnosis, always requires lab tests or imaging, and can be resolved within days to weeks with proper treatment. In severe cases, the condition may persist until delivery. There is no cure for preeclampsia but the symptoms usually resolve themselves after delivery.
We do not yet have a reliable test to detect the onset of preeclampsia which is why doctors are trained to vigorously monitor an expecting mother for signs of preeclampsia onset. Failure to detect and treat this rare and potentially lethal condition could be medical malpractice if proper monitoring, care, and treatment is not provided. The most common symptoms the present are high blood pressure, swollen hands or feet, and protein in the urine.
Once preeclampsia is detected a mother should be monitored in a hospital and her blood pressure checked at least four times per day. Caregivers should provide mothers with medicine and make sure it is taken correctly. Preeclampsia may be a rare condition but doctors are aware of its dangers and should always be on the lookout for its telling symptoms, especially in mothers who have a history of high blood pressure, a history of preeclampsia, family history of preeclampsia, or are obese.
If left untreated, preeclampsia can develop into eclampsia or HELLP Syndrome. Eclampsia is seizures (convulsions) in a pregnant woman. HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening liver disorder thought to be a type of severe preeclampsia characterized by Hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells), Elevated Liver enzymes (which indicate liver damage), and Low PlateletP count. HELLP requires immediate medical treatment.