Pregnant woman has blood pressure tested

Women's Health | one month ago

Preeclampsia Awareness: What You Need to Know to Keep You and Your Baby Safe

Chances are, most of us have heard of the medical condition, preeclampsia, at some point or another. But do you know what it is and why it can be dangerous for pregnant women? Julio Mateus Nino, MD an OB-GYN with maternal fetal medicine, at Atrium Health CMC Women’s Institute, shares information about preeclampsia and what you need to know to keep you and your baby safe.

Preeclampsia, one of the most common pregnancy complications, is a condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in your urine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects about 4% of pregnancies in the United States and is usually diagnosed after 20 weeks.

While there might not be any hard-and-fast ways to prevent preeclampsia, Julio Mateus Nino, MD, an OB-GYN with maternal fetal medicine at Atrium Health CMC Women's Institute, has some tips to help you spot the signs and keep your baby safe, even if you’re diagnosed.

Question 1: What is preeclampsia and is it common?

A1 | Dr. Mateus Nino: Preeclampsia is a disorder that can affect one or more organs and is associated with serious maternal, fetal and neonatal adverse effects. The rate of preeclampsia ranges between 5% and 8% but is increasing due to rising rates of risk factors such as chronic hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and advancing maternal age. 

Q2: What causes it?

A2 | Dr. Mateus Nino: It is suggested that preeclampsia occurs secondary to abnormal development of placenta during the first trimester of gestation. Abnormal placental function restricts the transfer of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and leads later, usually after 20 weeks of gestation, to maternal clinical manifestations such as high blood pressure, swelling in hands and feet, headache, and upper abdominal pain.

Racial disparities also tend to exist in preeclampsia. Compared with white women, Black women have higher rates of preeclampsia and chronic hypertension, and the mortality rate related to preeclampsia is three times higher. The factors contributing to racial disparities are poorly understood, but they are under intense investigation.  

Q3: What are the warning signs?

A3 | Dr. Mateus Nino: Preeclampsia usually manifests after 20 weeks of gestation. Early signs include elevated blood pressure (140/90 mmHg) and swelling, usually of hands, feet, arms and legs. Headache, visual disturbances, upper abdominal pain are associated with severe preeclampsia.

Q4: How do you treat preeclampsia?

A4 | Dr. Mateus Nino: The only treatment available right now is delivery of the placenta and the baby. Many women who are diagnosed with preeclampsia are monitored closely. Blood pressure control can be offered to women who are stable with preeclampsia and who are early in their pregnancy.

Q5: Can preeclampsia affect the baby?

A5 | Dr. Mateus Nino: Yes. Preeclampsia is one of the leading causes of preterm delivery, fetal growth restriction and perinatal death. Emerging evidence suggests that infants born to women with preeclampsia are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease during adult life.

For these reasons, routine care is essential. Establishing prenatal care early in pregnancy is strongly recommended as low-dose aspirin starting at 11-13 weeks is highly effective to prevent preeclampsia in women with increased risk factors. Clinical observation throughout pregnancy is recommended and that includes close blood pressure monitoring during prenatal visits and screening of early signs of the disease.

Learn more about Atrium Health Women’s Care.