Levine is hopeful that new treatments, or ways to prevent the disease, will be developed in the future.
At present, though, many women end up like Joan, failing to recognize head and abdominal pain as signs of preeclampsia. In fact, more than half of all pregnant women are uninformed about the signs and symptoms of the condition, according to a Preeclampsia Foundation survey of more than 1,300 women who had given birth.
Vigilance is key, because preeclampsia can develop or worsen with little notice.
Raynor once had a patient who had two elevated blood pressures a day but otherwise felt fine and wanted to be released from the hospital. But a blood count showed her platelets were falling, a sign of trouble ahead. In a matter of hours, she became very ill.
"Preeclampsia can sometimes do that: You look fine, and then six hours later, you're intubated, and you're really sick, or your kidneys are failing, and your urine output falls off, or your liver's starting to show damage," Raynor cautioned. "All of those things can happen."
To learn more, visit the Preeclampsia Foundation.
SOURCES: B. Denise Raynor, M.D., associate professor, Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, and director, Emory Perinatal Center, Emory Crawford Long Hospital, Atlanta; Richard J. Levine, M.D., M.P.H., senior investigator, Epidemiology Branch, U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, Md.; Preeclampsia Fo
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