Ignorance Is Far from Bliss: the Importance of Monitoring Preeclampsia for a Safe Pregnancy

When the character of Lady Sybil from the popular television show Downton Abbey died during childbirth, it may have seemed to many viewers like an artifact of the times. After all, the show is a historical drama, and the episode was set in 1920, nearly a hundred years ago. It's easy to think of childbirth as being much more dangerous in the past, with more primitive medical techniques and less sophisticated equipment.

Yet according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, between three and five percent of pregnant women in the United States suffer from preeclampsia. And globally, the Preeclampsia Foundation reports that 76,000 women and 500,000 infants die each year from preeclampsia and its complications. That's why it's crucial to discuss this condition with your ob/gyn if you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant.

How Dangerous Is Preeclampsia?

Despite the scary numbers in the previous paragraph, many pregnant women who suffer from preeclampsia give birth to healthy babies and recover fully. However, this is because preeclampsia, when caught, can be monitored and treated – even in the 1920s world of Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil's doctor believed she would have survived had she been taken to a hospital for a Caesarean section. And today, babies can be delivered earlier than ever to relieve the condition in their mothers.

Are You At Elevated Risk?

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure disorder, and women who suffer from chronic high blood pressure are at an increased risk, as are women with diabetes, lupus, or migraines. Age and weight are also risk factors, with women who are obese or over 40 at highest risk. And there also seems to be a genetic component. So if you have had sisters, aunts, grandmothers, or a mother who developed preeclampsia, your own chances are significantly higher.

How Can You Lower Your Risk?

Some of the risk factors for preeclampsia are treatable. While you can't change who your relatives are and what genetics you have, it's possible to make lifestyle changes – exercising more and eating more healthily – if your risk has been increased by high blood pressure or obesity. However, while you should certainly work to lower your risk factors if you can, the most important thing will be monitoring your pregnancy.

What Should You Do Next?

Some of the signs of preeclampsia are things you might notice yourself, while others would only show up on tests. That's why it's important for both you and your ob/gyn, one like The Ob-Gyn Group, to discuss the issue and, especially if you're in an at-risk group, work together to monitor your situation. While your ob/gyn may want you to take periodic blood or urine tests, you can keep track of your blood pressure at home to catch any increases as soon as possible.