The U.S. has a higher ratio of maternal deaths than at least 40 other developed nations, according to the World Health Organization. What’s more, researchers reported the U.S. maternal death rate was higher in 2005 than in 1982 – increasing to 15.1 deaths per 100,000 births from 7.5. African American women had a maternal death ratio of 36.5 deaths per 100,000 – ten times higher than what experts say it should be.
Not every single maternal death is preventable, but the majority can be with adequate medical care throughout pregnancy, labor and postpartum.
At Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers, our Boston birth injury lawyers are well aware of the fact that one of the key causes of maternal death – and one which also poses significant risk to the baby – is preeclampsia.What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy, and is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
It is most common within:
- First pregnancies
- Teen pregnancies
- Pregnancies of women over age 40
- Pregnancies with gestational diabetes
- Pregnancies with pre-existing high blood pressure
- Pregnancies with mothers who are obese
- Pregnancies with mothers carrying multiples
- After the 34th week of gestation (though can occur at any point after the 20th week)
According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 11 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. are the result of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is one of those. One out of every 20 women will develop preeclampsia.Symptoms of Preeclampsia
- High blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the face and hands (Edema)
- Seeing spots/ blurred vision
- Poor liver function
- Abdominal pain, especially below the rib cage
Unfortunately, most women may not realize they are suffering from the condition. That’s because some of the symptoms are normal to pregnancy. For example, many pregnant women experience some degree of swelling during the third trimester and it doesn’t mean they are suffering from preeclampsia. It’s the same thing with hypertension, which about 10 to 15 percent of pregnant women suffer from.
That’s why it’s often up to health care professionals to correctly identify and promptly treat this condition.Effects of Preeclampsia
The long-term health of these infants depends how premature they are and how promptly medical attention was provided.
Without intervention, both mother and child are at grave risk. The condition may cause interference with blood flow to the fetus, which could result in lack of oxygen to the fetus’ brain. In turn, this could cause severe brain damage and possibly death. The mother too is at risk of seizures, coma and death if the condition, untreated, develops into eclampsia.
There is also the risk of:
- Placental abruption
- HELLP (hemolysis elevated liver enzymes)
- Increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease
The only known cure for preeclampsia is delivery of the fetus. That’s why so many babies of mothers who suffered preeclampsia are born prematurely. In some cases, doctors may be able to safely stave off labor by prescribing:
- Bed rest
In more severe cases, the mother will be scheduled for a cesarean section. Doctors may have a reasonable option to induce labor if the condition is diagnosed toward the end of pregnancy and the fetus is viable. But again, if labor isn’t carefully monitored and the fetus isn’t closely watched for fetal distress, it could result in a critical lack of oxygen for the child.Preeclampsia and Cerebral Palsy
Preeclampsia has been associated with a higher risk of having a child with cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a condition characterized by impairment of muscle and movement, and is often caused by a lack of oxygen at birth.
The connection between the two conditions makes a lot of sense when you consider that many women with preeclampsia must deliver their babies early, and nearly half of all children with cerebral palsy were born prematurely. In fact, the lower the birthweight of the child, the higher the risk of cerebral palsy.
Physicians, midwives and nurses have to take the threat of this condition very seriously, and be on alert for it with all patients, but especially those with the aforementioned risk factors. The risk of premature birth has to be carefully weighed with that of the risks preeclampsia poses.
If a doctor, nurse or midwife fails to act quickly to treat preeclampsia, those individuals may be liable for any injury or death that results.