Pregnancy is a wonderful time for expectant mothers but it can often come with health challenges. Your body is changing in ways that are foreign to you and it's difficult to know what is or isn't normal. That's why pregnant women trust their doctors to notice what symptoms are typical and which ones are concerning.
However, too often doctors fail their pregnant patients and miss or ignore signs of pregnancy complications that endanger an expectant mother's health. One of the most common misdiagnosable pregnancy conditions is preeclampsia.
What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is pregnancy-induced high blood pressure - also known as hypertension - that typically begins after 20 weeks. Sudden weight gain or swelling - particularly in the face and hands - is common with patients who have preeclampsia.
While this symptom can occur in a normal pregnancy, patients who have sudden weight gain or swelling in addition to other symptoms should be taken seriously. Some of the other symptoms of preeclampsia doctors should be looking for include:
- Severe headaches
- Vision changes
- Upper abdominal pain, typically under the ribs on the right side
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Excess protein in the urine or other signs of kidney issues
- Decreased urine output
- Decreased platelet levels in the blood
- Impaired liver function
Who is at risk for developing preeclampsia?
The risk for developing preeclampsia is highest during a first pregnancy, especially with a family history of the complication, and a previous preeclampsia diagnosis greatly increases the risk for developing it in further pregnancies.
Other risk factors include:
- Chronic hypertension
- A pregnancy with a new partner
- Being very young or older than 40
- Black women are at a higher risk
- Women carrying multiples
- Having babies fewer than two years or more than 10 years apart
- In vitro fertilization
- Certain pre-pregnancy conditions such as migraines, either type of diabetes, kidney disease, a history of developing blood clots or lupus
How serious is preeclampsia?
The most effective treatment for preeclampsia is delivering the baby. Even if it is early and the baby would need to stay in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the risk of serious complications is too great to continue a pregnancy.
If left untreated, preeclampsia can cause serious or fatal problems for the mother and baby, such as stroke, heart disease or other organ failure. National Public Radio and ProPublica spent a year reporting on maternal mortality and morbidity, which is when women die or almost die due to pregnancy or birth. They found that maternal mortality and morbidity rates are rising in the U.S. at a dramatic rate, partially due to complications such as preeclampsia.
Patients who were not treated properly for preeclampsia and developed complications during or after birth have the right to seek damages to pay for any financial burden due to long-term health problems or emotional turmoil. You trust your doctor to care for you and your baby during this vulnerable time, and you should not be left with the bill if they fail.