May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month 

Published May 22, 2024 under Blog

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Preeclampsia is characterized by a rapid rise in blood pressure that can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure, and death of the mother and/or baby. It affects 1 in 25 pregnancies in the US. One of the most effective ways to address this is to provide access to midwives and doulas throughout the prenatal period, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period.

Preeclampsia Awareness Month is held every May to increase public awareness of maternal hypertensive disorders and the harmful effects preeclampsia can have on both a birthing person and their baby. One goal of this month is to educate birthing people and birth workers on what preeclampsia is, risk factors to be aware of, and how to identify symptoms of preeclampsia. It is also important this month to bring attention to the disparities that exist in preeclampsia diagnoses and related complications, which disproportionally affect racialized birthing people in the United States.  

What is Preeclampsia? 

Preeclampsia is a hypertensive (high blood pressure) disorder that affects 1 in 25 pregnancies in the United States. It is usually diagnosed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, though birthing people remain at risk of developing hypertensive complications up to 6 weeks postpartum. While most birthing people who develop preeclampsia will safely deliver a healthy baby, without timely diagnosis and treatment, preeclampsia can lead to fatal complications for both the birthing person and baby. Though preeclampsia complications are one of the leading causes of maternal death in the U.S., 60% of these deaths are preventable. Increasing preeclampsia awareness and advocating for adequate diagnosis and treatment is essential in efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates and combat the maternal health crisis in the United States.  

Disparities in Preeclampsia 

As with other areas of the maternal health crisis, there are significant disparities in preeclampsia and related complications. Black birthing people develop preeclampsia at a 60% higher rate than white birthing people. Research has also indicated that Indigenous birthing people and individuals living in under-resourced communities are at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia than other birthing populations in the United States.  

These disparities are due to a variety of factors. Notably, research has consistently found that the systemic racism that racialized communities face in the United States lead to higher chronic stress levels which in turn, lead to an increased the risk of developing preeclampsia. Additionally, lower qualities of care due to the under allocation of resources in racialized communities and implicit bias of hospital clinicians put racialized birthing people at an increased risk of preeclampsia complications. Too often, clinicians do not take a birthing person’s report of their symptoms seriously and fail to promptly treat the condition.  

Awareness and Education 

It’s important for birthing people and birth workers to know what signs to look out for to help identify preeclampsia as quickly as possible. Birth workers such as doulas play an important role in advocating for their client’s health, especially in settings where clinicians are biased. Birth workers may provide necessary support to someone who is explaining symptoms or requesting tests and treatment for suspected preeclampsia.  

Know your risk factors: 

  • Multiple pregnancy  
  • Hypertension prior to pregnancy  
  • Diabetes 
  • Kidney Disease 
  • IVF pregnancy  
  • Autoimmune disorders  
  • Family or personal history of pre-eclampsia  
  • Maternal age of 35 years or older  
  • First pregnancy 
  • More than 10 years since a previous pregnancy  

Look out for symptoms: 

  • Severe headaches 
  • Vision changes  
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Upper belly pain; specifically, on the right side under your ribs 
  • Nausea or vomiting  
  • Sudden weight gain or swelling, particularly in face and hands  

Resources:  Additional resources for information on what preeclampsia is, how to look out for it, and prevention and treatment options are listed below.  

March of Dimes – https://www.marchofdimes.org/find-support/topics/pregnancy/preeclampsia

Preeclampsia Foundation  – https://www.preeclampsia.org/

This blog was authored by Kanan Brent, Leadership Coordinator and Board Liaison at HealthConnect One.  

Sources: 

Preeclampsia Foundation 

Mayo Clinic  

March of Dimes  

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