Women experience several health changes during pregnancy, and if it is their first child those symptoms are new and strange. It can be difficult to discern what is a normal occurrence and what is a complication. They end up placing a lot of trust in their doctors.
Unfortunately, doctors can make errors. It has led pregnant women in the U.S. to suffer more fatal complications than women in any other high-income country.
One common complication doctors miss is preeclampsia. Despite it affecting 5-8% of pregnancies, doctors can miss the signs and it can have devastating effects for mother and baby. It is one of the top six causes of maternal mortality in the U.S.
What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a condition that only affects pregnant women after 20 weeks gestation and up to six weeks postpartum. Gestational hypertension often precedes preeclampsia. In most cases, its most effective treatment is to deliver the baby.
Preeclampsia is dangerous because it can lead to eclampsia, which causes seizures in the mother, or HELLP Syndrome (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count), which affects blood cell breakdown, blood clotting and liver function in pregnant women. The condition can also affect blood flow to the placenta, which reduces oxygen for the baby. This can lead to low birth weight.
What are the symptoms?
Severe preeclampsia, which a doctor may be more likely to catch, includes the following symptoms:
· Blurred vision
· Intolerance for bright light
· Low urine output
· Upper abdominal pain
· Shortness of breath
· Bruising easily
However, mild preeclampsia - which can be just as dangerous - is only characterized by high blood pressure, water retention/swelling and protein in the urine. If a pregnant woman doesn't show severe symptoms and isn't a patient typically at risk for preeclampsia, a doctor may assume it is gestational hypertension and not perform a protein test on their urine. However, first-time pregnant women do have an increased risk of preeclampsia.
Pregnant women and their families who believe they may have had preeclampsia and it negatively affected their health or their baby's, doctors should be held responsible. Treating preeclampsia and avoiding its complications is possible, but only with a doctor who understands this potentially fatal condition.