May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month and doctors at Atrium Health Navicent want to help raise awareness about the condition which results in the deaths of 70,000 mothers and 500,000 babies worldwide each year.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-specific condition that occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy and affects about 4 percent of expectant mothers. One of the most common pregnancy complications, it is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. The rapid rise in blood pressure caused by preeclampsia can result in seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and death of the mother and the baby. Preeclampsia can also lead to fetal growth restriction and the increased risk of stillbirth.
“Pregnant patients with preeclampsia often have no symptoms, which can make diagnosis challenging at times and is a big reason why regular follow-ups with an obstetrician are so important, especially in the third trimester,” said Dr. Misti Patel, an Atrium Health Navicent maternal fetal medicine specialist.
Preeclampsia is more common in first pregnancies and in patients who are very young or are of advanced maternal age. The risk also increases in patients who have a history of high blood pressure outside of pregnancy, have pre-gestational diabetes or in those with known autoimmune disorders.
Doctors say the rate of preeclampsia is increasing due to rising rates of risk factors such as chronic hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and advancing maternal age.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of preeclampsia in Black women is 60 percent higher than in white women in the United States.
For women who do experience symptoms, the most common can include swelling, gastric pain, headaches, visual changes and shortness of breath. Preeclampsia can occur quickly, without any warning, and it can happen to anyone. Women should seek medical attention if they experience any of those symptoms or notice blood pressure of greater than 140/90 on home blood pressure monitoring.
A specialist will help balance the health risks of a mother diagnosed with preeclampsia with that of her baby. Delivery may be recommended, but doctors can also help manage preeclampsia through medications to treat blood pressure and, if necessary, hospitalization.
Low-dose aspirin starting at 11-13 weeks is highly effective to prevent preeclampsia in women with increased risk factors. All women should keep their pregnancy as healthy as possible by following a nutritious diet and getting plenty of exercise. Because it’s so important to catch preeclampsia early, women should also consider tracking their blood pressure at home and staying aware of how they’re feeling.
Doctors urge all expectant mothers to start routine prenatal care early, and stay on track with regular check-ups throughout their pregnancy.
“Regular prenatal care is so important because signs of preeclampsia — including increased blood pressure and elevated protein in the urine — usually occur before patients become symptomatic. Your provider will monitor blood pressure trends as well as the amount of protein in your urine during regular prenatal visits. We also know that preeclampsia is more often diagnosed in the third trimester, so increasing the frequency of visits at this point in the pregnancy is also important,” Patel said.
Through regular examinations during pregnancy, physicians at Atrium Health Navicent Women’s Care Maternal Fetal Medicine play a critical role in helping keep moms and babies healthy. Expectant mothers throughout central and south Georgia can rest easy knowing high-quality health care is close to home.
As part of Atrium Health Navicent’s commitment to improving outcomes for mothers and babies, the health system has increased access to care by offering appointments in Forsyth and Macon at Atrium Health Navicent Women’s Care OBGYN, and offers additional assistance for high-risk obstetrics patients who may face barriers to keeping vitally important prenatal appointments.
Recognizing that Georgia has the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the nation, and that Black women in Georgia are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, Atrium Health Navicent has also partnered to host a series of community discussions to raise awareness of racial disparities which impact Black mothers.
For more information about Atrium Health Navicent Women’s Care Maternal Fetal Medicine, visit https://navicenthealth.org/service-center/perinatal-associates