May: Preeclampsia Awareness Month

Many pregnant mothers are used to regularly tracking the progress of their pregnancies to make sure everything is going smoothly. However, pregnancy is an unpredictable experience and any mother is vulnerable to unexpected complications. Preeclampsia is the most common and one of the most dangerous, complications that can occur. 

Preeclampsia causes high blood pressure, swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches, and in severe cases, seizures and death. Although it can be easily mistaken for normal pregnancy pains, preeclampsia is a condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. It affects one in 20 pregnancies and generally arises during the third trimester or later. Most women will deliver successfully but for others, a mild case can quickly become life-threatening, and the only way to resolve it is delivery of the baby. 

If preeclampsia sets in before 37 weeks, the infant is at higher risk of suffering premature birth complications. Both mother and baby are closely monitored to ensure the baby has enough time to develop without putting the mother’s life at risk. Her kidneys and liver can become impaired and blood clotting problems can also arise.

Preeclampsia is easily monitored and resolved in developed countries, but this is not the same in developing countries. In some countries in Africa, this is a major problem because hospitals and local health centers suffer from a severe lack of water, electricity, and staff. Dr. Laura Stachel, an obstetrician-gynecologist, said, “I really want a world where women can deliver safely and with dignity, and women don’t have to fear an event that we consider a joy in this country. To see birth associated with death and fear is an outrage.” She spoke with KQED about how she was troubled to see so many pregnant women die in poor countries such as Nigeria because of a lack of basic resources.

All pregnant women are at risk of developing preeclampsia, but some are more vulnerable than others. Women carrying their first pregnancies have a higher risk of developing the condition, as well as diabetic mothers and mothers carrying twins. All women who develop preeclampsia are at elevated risk of developing end-stage renal disease, heart disease, and chronic hypertension. The more aware people are of preeclampsia and its symptoms, the better – more women and babies can be saved. Especially in poor countries where women do not have the luxury of having nurses and trained midwives monitor their pregnancies and deliveries, women need to be educated on potential complications, such as preeclampsia.

Our Executive Director, Toyin Idehen, is a severe preeclampsia survivor who lost one of her twin daugthers as a result. This quote is from her experience in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) while she pondered on the survival of her then called ‘Baby Girl Idehen #2′: “Know that I will always be there for you. Know that I have your back. Know that we are in this storm together. Know that tomorrow is a new day and new day’s bring hope and light. – Toyin Idehen.


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