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Preeclampsia Associated with Future Health Risks

Preeclampsia associated with health risks

Preeclampsia is a serious, life-threatening condition that typically occurs only at a specific time during pregnancy and a short time postpartum. But a new study conducted by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev finds that preeclampsia is associated with lingering health risks of which women should be aware.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that affects at least 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies and typically develops after 20 weeks gestation and up to six weeks postpartum. In most cases, however, it occurs during the third trimester and goes away within 48 hours of delivery.

According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, an estimated 76,000 women and 500,000 infants around the world die each year because of preeclampsia. The disorder is characterized mainly by the development of rapidly progressive high blood pressure and protein in the urine (proteinuria).

Although preeclampsia can trigger a variety of other symptoms, some women experience few of them or dismiss them because they believe they are related to their pregnancy. Those symptoms can include sudden weight gain, headache, vision changes, swelling, nausea or vomiting, abdominal and/or shoulder pain, lower back pain, rapid pulse, mental confusion, anxiety, and shortness of breath.

But while preeclampsia resolves, a research team has found future health risks associated with the disorder. Investigators evaluated 2,072 women who had mild or severe preeclampsia one or more times and a control group of 20,742 patients without preeclampsia. The women has given birth between 1988 and 1998 and were followed-up until December 2009.

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The authors reported that:

  • Women with preeclampsia were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with chronic hypertension (12.5%) than were controls (0.9%)
  • Women with preeclampsia were more likely to require hospitalization in later years (13.7%) than were controls (11.4%)

Risk factors for preeclampsia
For now, no one can accurately predict which women will develop preeclampsia, although research into tests that can predict the disorder have been done. However, experts have identified risk factors for preeclampsia, some of which women can control and others they cannot.

  • Personal or family history of preeclampsia
  • First pregnancy, when the risk is highest
  • Age younger than 20 and older than 40
  • Pregnant with twins, triplets, or other multiples
  • Long intervals between pregnancies
  • Development of gestational diabetes
  • Obesity
  • History of certain health problems before becoming pregnant, such as migraine, diabetes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and chronic high blood pressure

Other factors that may increase a woman's risk include presence of urinary tract infections and/or periodontal disease during pregnancy, vitamin D insufficiency, and the presence of certain proteins in the blood or urine. One study discovered genetic mutations linked to preeclampsia.

This new study indicates that while preeclampsia may last only a short time during pregnancy and postpartum, there can be associated health risks later in life.

Preeclampsia Foundation
Shalom G et al. Is preeclampsia a significant risk factor for long-term hospitalizations and morbidity? Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine 2012. doi:10.3109/14767058.2012.718386

Image: Morguefile