Preeclampsia is a medical condition during pregnancy that can put the mother and baby at risk of injury or harm. Preeclampsia is generally characterized by high blood pressure and organ dysfunction. Preeclampsia requires treatment and monitoring. If the condition is not properly treated or controlled, it can lead to seizures.
What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that can lead to seizures, or eclampsia. It is among the most common complications that can arise during pregnancy and may affect about 1 in 20 pregnancies. Preeclampsia most commonly occurs during the 3rd trimester but can occur earlier.
Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and organ damage, usually in the kidneys or liver. Organ damage usually presents as protein in the urine. High blood pressure during pregnancy is defined as greater than 140/90 on two separate times more than 4 hours apart. Other pregnancy conditions that may involve hypertension, or high blood pressure, include:
- Gestational hypertension
- Chronic hypertension
- Chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia
With preeclampsia being so common for pregnant women, it is often screened for as part of standard prenatal care. High blood pressure before pregnancy can be a risk factor for preeclampsia but the condition can arise in women with normal blood pressure before the onset of complications.
Causes of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia may be caused by irregular development of the blood vessels in the placenta. Early in the pregnancy, when new blood vessels develop to send blood to the placenta, narrower blood vessels may limit the amount of blood flow to the fetus. Interruptions to the development of blood vessels can be caused by damage, immune system problems, or reduced blood flow to the uterus.
Risk factors of preeclampsia include the general risk factors related to high blood pressure, as well as factors unrelated to hypertension, including:
- Chronic hypertension
- First pregnancy
- Young women or women over the age of 35
- Multiple pregnancies (twins or triplets or more)
- Family or personal history of preeclampsia
- Kidney disease
- In vitro fertilization
- Prior preeclampsia
Pregnant women who are at higher risk of developing preeclampsia may be prescribed medication or nutritional supplements to reduce the risk of developing the condition, including aspirin, blood pressure medication, or calcium supplements.
Signs of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is generally diagnosed with high blood pressure and protein in the urine. However, it can also involve other signs of organ dysfunction, including:
- Low platelet count
- Impaired liver function
- Impaired kidney function
- Fluid in the lungs
- Sudden onset of headaches
- Visual disturbances
Complications of Preeclampsia and Injuries
High blood pressure and organ damage are the most common complications involving preeclampsia. The high blood pressure and protein in the urine are able to be controlled, the mother may be able to continue to the normal delivery schedule. If the complications are not controlled or get worse, the delivery of the baby and placenta may be the next step.
Delivery of the baby is the primary treatment preeclampsia. Depending on the maturity of the baby, delivery may involve inducing labor or delivery of the baby through Caesarean section. Before delivery, anti-hypertensive medications may be administered to the mother to reduce high blood pressure, and prevent complications.
The mother and baby should be monitored after a diagnosis or concern for preeclampsia, including during and after delivery. Complications and dangers of preeclampsia can affect the mother and the baby.
Dangers of Preeclampsia to the Mother
After developing preeclampsia, the mother may be at risk of a number of injuries, including short-term complications, long-term damage, and possible death. Complications of preeclampsia include eclampsia, which causes seizures. Eclampsia is associated with higher rates of morbidity for the baby and mother. Other complications include:
- HELLP syndrome
- Hemorrhagic stroke
- Ischemic stroke
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome
Even after delivery, the mother may be at risk of long-term complications, including cardiovascular disease, ischemic heart disease, kidney disease, and eye damage. Women may also be a higher risk of stroke after preeclampsia, with the risk increasing with multiple preeclampsia pregnancies.
Dangers of Preeclampsia to the Baby
When a mother develops preeclampsia, the high blood pressure, organ damage, and other complications may have an effect on the baby who is receiving blood, oxygen, and nutrients through the umbilical cord. Organ damage to the mother can lead to organ damage in the baby. High blood pressure can compromise the oxygen and blood supply to the baby, which has a direct impact on brain health and possible brain injury. Preeclampsia may also be associated with fetal growth restrictions, fetal death, or perinatal death.
Preeclampsia may also have a higher risk of placental abruption. Placental abruption involves the placenta separating from the uterus before giving birth. With placental abruption, the child is at risk of not getting enough oxygen or nutrients from the mother. Bleeding at the site of the abruption can also put the baby and mother at risk of harm due to hemorrhage.
Preeclampsia generally develops before the full term of pregnancy. As a result of developing preeclampsia, the baby may have to be delivered preterm. Premature birth can lead to breathing problems and other developmental problems for the baby.
Preeclampsia and Medical Malpractice
Doctors and healthcare professionals should be familiar with the signs and dangers of preeclampsia. Pregnant mothers with preeclampsia should be monitored and treated to reduce the risk of injury to the mother and baby. If a medical professional fails to follow the standard of care, it can cause harm or death to the mother or baby. A breach of duty of care that causes harm may be medical malpractice and the injury victims may be able to get compensation for their injuries, including medical bills, and pain and suffering.
Failure to Treat and Failure to Monitor Preeclampsia
Monitoring is important in a patient with preeclampsia because their blood tests and blood pressure may have a direct impact on the health of the mother and baby. Testing with preeclampsia may involve blood tests, urine tests, ultrasound, and other diagnostic or imaging tests to evaluate the mother and baby and determine the next steps to take. If a doctor fails to properly monitor the mother and baby, it may put the mother and baby at greater risk of harm.
Preeclampsia Injury Attorneys
If a medical mistake involving preeclampsia caused a birth injury in your child, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about holding the doctors and healthcare systems accountable. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.