Preeclampsia is a serious high blood pressure condition that occurs during pregnancy. It can cause organs such as the kidneys and liver not to work normally. With preeclampsia, a pregnant person might have high blood pressure, and high levels of protein in their urine that indicate kidney damage (proteinuria) or other signs of organ damage. It and related hypertensive disorders affect one in 25 U.S. pregnancies.
While most women with preeclampsia will deliver healthy babies and fully recover, some will experience complications that could be life-threatening to the mom and/or her baby.
Symptoms of preeclampsia include headaches, vision changes, swelling of the hands, feet, face or eyes in the pregnant person and an increased risk of developing heart health complications later in life. Preeclampsia can also jeopardize the well-being of the baby.
But there’s hopeful news. Half of all preeclampsia cases occur during the last month of pregnancy, and new research shows that these cases could be prevented by a timed birth option — either with a scheduled induction (use of medication or other methods to induce labor) or with a Caesarean delivery.
After reviewing more than 10 years of health records for nearly 90,000 pregnancies, researchers concluded that scheduling childbirth when a woman is suffering with preeclampsia while in full term pregnancy is a good idea.
If a woman is experiencing preeclampsia earlier during weeks 20 to 36 of pregnancy, it’s standard procedure for preterm delivery to be an option. Most preeclampsia occurs later — between weeks 37 to 42 — which is considered full term. This makes timed birth delivery a reasonable approach.
Scheduled childbirth is routinely used for a range of reasons late in pregnancy, such as the labor is not progressing, or the baby is very large or in distress, or the umbilical cord is pinched — it’s rarely used as an intervention to prevent at-term preeclampsia. The study makes the case that it should be.
After reviewing more than 10 years of health records for nearly 90,000 pregnancies at two hospitals in the United Kingdom, Kings College Hospital, London and Medway Maritime Hospital Gillingham, researchers concluded that scheduling childbirth when a woman is suffering with preeclampsia while in full term pregnancy is a good idea.
“Our findings suggest that over half of the cases of at-term preeclampsia may be prevented by timed (planned birth),” the study’s lead author, Laura A. Magee, said in a press release.
The majority of the women included in the data were in their early 30’s, self-identified as white and had a body mass index at the upper limits of normal. About 10 percent of the women said they were smokers, but fewer than 3 percent had a medical history of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or an autoimmune disease. Just under 4 percent reported a family history of preeclampsia.
The analysis showed that timed birth can be an effective intervention for reducing at-term preeclampsia. “It’s important to note that being at higher risk of at-term preeclampsia was associated with earlier spontaneous onset of labor, so women at the highest risk were already less likely to deliver close to their due date,” Magee, a professor of women’s health at King’s College in London, said.
There was a significant limitation to the UK study: researchers had to calculate potential risk to the participants and their babies, since no interventions were provided. The study also did not examine the potential for preeclampsia after delivery. Known as postpartum preeclampsia, this condition affects approximately 5 percent of the post-pregnancy population.
To limit your risk of developing hypertension during pregnancy, it’s recommended that women:
1. Keep prenatal appointments. Visit health care providers regularly throughout pregnancy.
2. Take blood pressure medication and low-dose daily aspirin as prescribed.
3. Stay active.
4. Eat a healthy diet high in protein and low in processed foods.
The study is published in the journal, Hypertension.