Preeclampsia is a common condition of pregnancy, affecting 5-8% of all pregnancies. When it is not managed properly by appropriate prenatal care from a competent obstetrician (OB physician), it can put the lives of the baby and mother at risk.
Signs and symptoms
According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, expectant mothers with preeclampsia often do not notice any symptoms. Many of the signs of preeclampsia, though, can be measured by healthcare professionals during prenatal visits.
Medical research has identified the following signs and symptoms of preeclampsia: high blood pressure (hypertension), protein in the urine (proteinuria), edema (swelling), headache, nausea and vomiting, abdominal/stomach pain, shoulder pain, sudden weight gain, changes in vision, hyperreflexia, shortness of breath, and anxiety.
Many of the signs and symptoms are not specific to preeclampsia, meaning that they may be consistent with other illnesses or conditions. This is one of the reasons that ongoing prenatal assessments and monitoring is so important.
Of all the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia, I believe maternal high blood pressure gets the most attention. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is normally defined as 140/90 or greater. One of the important indicators for healthcare providers in assessing blood pressure is your normal, or baseline, blood pressure.
I recommend keeping a pregnancy health journal that includes data like changes in weight and blood pressure. It is helpful to know what your blood pressure was at the beginning of pregnancy, and then to note the blood pressure measured at each of your prenatal appointments.
Another classic sign of preeclampsia that gets significant attention is proteinuria. Looking for proteinuria is one of the reasons that the OB physician or nurse does a urine test on each prenatal visit. Preeclampsia disrupts the kidneys’ role in filtering protein, allowing protein can end up in the mother’s urine.
As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled numerous birth injury cases where preeclampsia was an issue. Recently, I settled a case on behalf of a young mother and her brain-injured baby. She received her prenatal care from an OB/GYN practice group and was seen by four different OB doctors during her pregnancy. According to their medical record documentation, the mom had high blood pressure and a significant weight gain, but they apparently did not consider preeclampsia and certainly did not treat her for it.
Obstetricians and prenatal experts have noted that there are several factors that increase the risk for a pregnant woman to develop preeclampsia. These factors include: obesity (body mass index/BMI of 30+), age less than 20, age over 40, first-time pregnancy, family history of preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension), multiple-baby pregnancy, and past medical history of gestational hypertension or preeclampsia.
If preeclampsia continues untreated, it can cause a number of complications, including fetal growth restriction, preterm birth, placental abruption (which can cause death of the mother and baby, or the baby to have a brain injury), seizures/eclampsia, cardiovascular disease, organ damage, and HELLP syndrome.
Many people are surprised to learn that there is no cure for preeclampsia except to deliver the baby. Unfortunately, sometimes this is not a good solution because preeclampsia developed early in the pregnancy.
Once a mother is diagnosed with preeclampsia, the prenatal provider will recommend frequent visits for bloodwork, ultrasounds, and other testing to make sure that the health of the mother and baby are on track. An OB physician may consider treating the symptoms of preeclampsia with anti- hypertensive medications to lower the blood pressure, corticosteroids (in severe cases) to help improve liver function and allow the mother to prolong the pregnancy, and anticonvulsant medications to prevent maternal seizures.
Although many physicians have recommended bedrest to mothers with preeclampsia, the Mayo Clinic points out that medical research has not shown to benefit from this. Because bedrest can increase blood clots, many doctors have moved away from this recommendation.
Considering that the ultimate treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby, the goal for obstetrician physicians is to stabilize the mother and baby as long is safe and possible to get closer to the normal due date.
We are here to help
If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured as a result of the medical mismanagement of preeclampsia, call Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.
Robert Painter is an attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He represents patients and family members in medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, obstetricians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. He is a former hospital administrator who, in 2017, was named as one of Houston’s top lawyers by H Texas magazine.