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Preeclampsia and the risk of stillbirth

Despite advances in prenatal care, stillbirths are an ongoing tragedy for mothers in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the causes of many stillbirths are poorly understood, and there is little conclusive research on the topic.

March of Dimes reports that 23,600 babies are stillborn in the United States each year. Some stillbirths may occur during delivery; most happen after 20 weeks of pregnancy but before labor. There are a number of factors that place women at higher risk of a stillbirth, including being over the age of 35, having a multiple pregnancy and having a medical condition such as diabetes. Complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, have also been linked to stillbirth.

According to LiveScience, preeclampsia is a potentially lethal condition in which expecting mothers present with high levels of protein in their urine and high blood pressure. Though preeclampsia can occur up to six weeks postpartum, it generally happens after 20 or more weeks of pregnancy, typically in the third trimester.

Women suffering from preeclampsia may experience a number of symptoms, some of which are not uncommon in uncomplicated pregnancies but should not be overlooked. These warning signs may include abrupt vomiting or nausea; breathing difficulty; swelling, particularly in the face, hands, feet and ankles; abdominal pain, particular in the upper right region; severe, ongoing headache; changes to vision; and, in extreme cases, seizures. Symptoms may appear either gradually or rapidly.

Preeclampsia poses a risk of neurological problems and damage to organs such as the liver and kidneys. It also can diminish the flow of blood to the placenta, depriving the fetus of essential nutrients and oxygen.

Though preeclampsia is a factor in as many as eight percent of all births in the United States, its causes often remain mysterious. Older mothers and women with certain preexisting health problems, such as kidney disease, may be at higher risk of developing this condition. Researchers have also proposed that other factors, such as genetics, formation of placental blood vessels and the way in which the placenta connects to the uterus, may play a role, too.

The symptoms of preeclampsia may flare suddenly or appear gradually over time. It is essential that Massachusetts doctors be able to recognize and respond to the warning signs of this condition in order to minimize the serious threat to both mother and child.

 

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