Olympic sprinter Tori Bowie died at the age of 32 from complications during childbirth, according to her autopsy released this week. At the time of her death, she was eight months pregnant.
Shortness of breath and eclampsia were listed as possible complications. according to the New York Times.
Bowie’s death underscores the seriousness of the maternal mortality problem in the United States, which is of major concern The maternal mortality rate is twice as high – if not more – than other developed countries such as France, Germany, the UK and Sweden. Her death also underscores the gravity of the black maternal mortality crisis in this country. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The World Health Organization reports that major causes of maternal death during pregnancy include major bleeding after childbirth, infection after childbirth, and preeclampsia and eclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy.
And while you may not be familiar with eclampsia, you may be familiar with preeclampsia — and the two are related. “Eclampsia is a rare but serious complication of preeclampsia” according to the Cleveland Clinic website.
What is eclampsia (and preeclampsia) and what are the signs? Here’s what you should know.
What is eclampsia?
eclampsia Seizures occur during pregnancy or after childbirth. It’s usually a serious consequence of preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy in which someone has high blood pressure and excess protein in their urine, he said Alison Cowana gynecologist in Colorado and chief medical officer Mirviea health technology company working to develop blood tests to determine the risk of pregnancy.
Eclampsia can also develop when a pregnant person has HELLP syndrome (which stands for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low blood platelet count) or gestational hypertension, it said dr Ahizechukwu Eke, Director of Research in the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. However, preeclampsia is the most common reason for developing eclampsia.
According to March of DimesPreeclampsia occurs in 5 to 8% of pregnancies. Eke said that in Western countries, severe preeclampsia occurs in 0.6% to 1.2% of pregnancies, and eclampsia occurs in 2% to 3% of people with severe preeclampsia.
Although eclampsia is not common overall, it is still serious. According to Eke, it is also considered a recent event, meaning the person suffering from it usually has no history of seizures.
What are the warning signs of eclampsia?
There are a number of warning signs of eclampsia. The biggest problem is high blood pressure. According to Eke, for example “75% of it [people] Anyone with eclampsia has a history of high blood pressure.”
About two-thirds of patients with eclampsia also had severe headaches before the attack, Eke said. Other symptoms include pain in the upper right abdomen, less frequent urination, dark urine, vision problems such as blurred vision, swollen hands and feet, and nausea and vomiting, he noted.
Unfortunately, while 75% of people who are diagnosed with eclampsia have symptoms before the attacks, 25% have no symptoms at all — “and then all of a sudden, boom, they just have one attack,” Eke said.
According to Cowan, the warning signs are similar to preeclampsia.
“Symptoms that can be common with preeclampsia include a severe headache that doesn’t improve with Tylenol, changes in your vision… You may have upper right abdominal pain,” Cowan said. Swelling is another symptom, she said, but it can be confusing since swelling can also occur in pregnancy.
Vomiting, high blood pressure, and shortness of breath are other signs of preeclampsia. according to Penn Medicine.
Who is at risk of developing eclampsia?
As previously mentioned, preeclampsia is the most common risk factor for developing eclampsia. Also, if it’s the person’s first pregnancy, she’s also at risk, Eke said.
Chronic high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease are also risk factors along with your age. If you’re younger than 16 or older than 35, you’re more likely to get the disease, he noted. People who are pregnant with more than one child, such as twins, triplets, or quadruplets, are also at higher risk.
“And then it tends to be more common among racial and ethnic minority groups, especially black women,” Eke said.
It is important for providers to thoroughly screen all patients for risk factors and educate them about the symptoms of preeclampsia and eclampsia. But it’s especially important to exhaust all potential risks and complications in black patients because eclampsia is more common in “this group,” Eke said.
Additionally, if you feel you are at risk and are not getting the care and attention you need, you can see another doctor.
“Everyone, regardless of their risk level, needs to know the signs and symptoms and when to ask their doctor or midwife for help,” Cowan added.
What can you do to protect yourself?
“The key to prevention is early detection of symptoms. Therefore, these patients usually need to call their doctor when they start [symptoms]’ said Eke.
This is especially true for patients with a history of hypertension. Eke said many doctors would encourage people to “have a blood pressure cuff at home and monitor blood pressure at least once a day.”
“I never want people to feel anything [anxious] or afraid of getting pregnant because of these stories, because the most important thing is, firstly, that there is a lot we can do to prevent preeclampsia, and secondly, if we cannot prevent it completely, if we recognize it, it is manageable – we can do anything to protect mother and child as long as we realize it’s there,” Cowan said.
When it comes to preventing and treating preeclampsia, Cowan said a baby aspirin can be an effective tool in treating preeclampsia, as can blood pressure control. In addition, certain lifestyle habits, such as exercise and a healthy diet, can also help prevent it.
“When you put it all together, that’s actually a pretty comprehensive list of things that doctors and pregnant women can do to reduce their risk of preeclampsia as much as possible,” she said.
As for what Cowan wants to convey to all patients, she said it’s important to talk to your doctor about your risk and symptoms.
And if you’re diagnosed with preeclampsia, make sure you know what to do and have an emergency plan with your doctor, she noted.
“I think knowledge is just the first step to prevention,” Cowan said.