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Preeclampsia, even in today’s medically savvy world can be a killer. It’s estimated that preeclampsia, along with other related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy impact around 5-8% of all births in the United States. It’s estimated that each year about 10 million women develop preeclampsia around the world and 76,000 will die due to complications from this deadly condition. In Latin America, alone, preeclampsia is the #1 cause of maternal death according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. You may think you’re protected if you live in the United States, but preeclampsia is still one of four leading causes of maternal death in the U.S. Recent UK audits of maternal deaths show that 22 deaths per year occur due to preeclampsia, and all of those deaths were thought to be associated with substandard care or thought to be totally avoidable. Health experts pretty much unanimously agree that maternal deaths due to hypertensive problems are almost 100% preventable with early detection and proper care. Luckily, there’s hope on the horizon. Researchers at Kings College London recently announced that they’ve developed a new test that may be able to predict which women are at the highest risk for developing preeclampsia. The findings, published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation state that the new test is designed to differentiate women with preeclampsia from those with high blood pressure alone.
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Study author Dr. Lucy Chappell, said in a press release, of the new test, “Current tests for the condition only detect that it’s happening, rather than predicting it, and by that time the disease has progressed and has likely already caused organ damage.” This new testing method looks for a very specific preeclampsia marker – the presence of a protein called protein placental growth factor (PIGF). According to Chappell, when a woman has, “Very low levels of this protein called placental growth factor, it reflects the fact that [the] placenta is not growing well, and that is at the heart of the disease.” The test, still in the experimental stage is undergoing more levels of research in order to determine if it will be able to accurately predict a diagnosis or or perhaps even offer ideas about how to treat preeclampsia. We hope this development is dispensed to doctors around the world quickly, but until then, there are steps every mother-to-be can take to prevent death due to preeclampsia.
- Get early and regular prenatal care. If you can’t afford prenatal care, contact local area social services or see if you can get health care through HealthCare.gov.
- Know your risks. You’re more likely to develop preeclampsia if: you’re carrying multiples, have a history of chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease or organ transplant; have a family history of preeclampsia, are an older maternal age (late 30s+), or if you are overweight or obese.
- Know the symptoms. Even women without risk factors can develop preeclampsia. Sadly, symptoms mimic other problems and often women shrug them off. Don’t! If you experience any of the following while you’re pregnant, let your midwife or doctor know ASAP: hands and face swelling, edema, sudden weight gain, persistent headaches, abdominal pain on your right side or below the ribs, pain in your right shoulder, nausea and/or vomiting, or any odd vision changes like temporary blindness, seeing weird flashing lights or spots, sensitivity to light or blurry vision.
- Most importantly, if something feels wrong, do not assume you’re having pregnancy induced delusions. You know your body best. If you feel bad, head to your midwife or doctor. Preeclampsia can be a totally silent killer in some cases, so your gut feeling may be all you have to go on. Trust yourself. In today’s world, with treatments available, there’s no reason any woman should ever die from preeclampsia.