It's not that I'd never heard of preeclampsia, it's just not one of those diseases that even blipped on my hypochondriac radar of something that would or could ever happen to me. I quickly scanned the risk factors (multiples pregnancy, obesity, diabetes or kidney disorder, pregnancy in early teens), determined I had none, and went back to obsessing over the listeria I was certain I was going to get from the cold deli meat sandwich I ingested.
Then the swelling started, and the doctors ignored it; and the swelling continued, and I ended up in the hospital with severe preeclampsia when I was 26 weeks pregnant with my son. He was delivered at 27 weeks, weighing just 1 pound, 15 ounces. He's fine today at 7-years-old -- incredible in every way -- but preeclampsia is the most frightening, most powerful thing that I've ever experienced. I only wish I knew then what I know now.
May is National Preeclampsia Month, and while education about the disease should continue year round, it's a good time to reflect on what is known about the killer disease. Some facts, from the Preeclampsia Foundation:
- Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period and affects both the mother and the unborn baby.
- It affects at least 5-8% of all pregnancies
- It is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision are important symptoms; however, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms.
- Typically, preeclampsia occurs after 20 weeks gestation (in the late 2nd or 3rd trimesters or middle to late pregnancy), though it can occur earlier.
- Globally, preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. By conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths each year.
One way to show support for the cause is to participate in The Promise Walk for Preeclampsia. Walks are being held across the country to help raise awareness and support to the millions of mothers and babies affected by the disease each year. If there's one in your area, it's a great way to get involved and get exercise at the same time.
Hopefully one day there will be a cure for this disease, but in the meantime, awareness is the best tool in the fight against it. It's hard for me not to think about the what-ifs in my situation if there had been more awareness ...
Have you suffered from preeclampsia? Are you planning to participate in one of these walks?
Image via promisewalk.org