greater awareness needed regarding post partum preeclampsia

In the overwhelming majority of hospitals across the U.S., women are discharged only a few days after giving birth and sent home with a seemingly endless list of instructions concerning their newborn. A growing chorus of medical professionals and patient safety advocates are now calling on hospitals to send women home with another set of instructions concerning a potentially dangerous post-partum condition.

Here, the condition in question is known as post-partum preeclampsia, which is characterized by a dramatic spike in blood pressure after giving birth that can result in everything from seizures and strokes to organ failure and even death.

According to statistics from the Preeclampsia Foundation, one in 12 women develop preeclampsia (i.e., pregnancy-induced hypertension), which is manifested by high blood pressure, swelling in the extremities and the presence of a certain protein in the urine.

However, the Foundation statistics show that 5.7 percent of these women will go on to develop post-partum preeclampsia, which accounts for as many as 76,000 global fatalities per year.

Symptoms of the condition can include everything from dizziness, weight gain and severe headaches to spotty vision, vomiting and shortness of breath. Furthermore, these symptoms may manifest themselves for anytime up to six weeks after the delivery.

“When preeclampsia persists or gets worse after delivery, it contradicts the myth everyone has in their mind that the cure is delivery and everyone gets instantly better,” said an official with the foundation. “It’s a progressive disorder and there is no stopping once it starts. If you are not treating and arresting it, it gets worse and worse.”

While post-partum preeclampsia can be effectively treated if the symptoms are recognized early enough, the Foundation believes that hospitals need to do more to educate women about the condition prior to discharge such that they know what to look for. This is especially true, they argue, given that women are often discharged so quickly after giving birth.

The onus isn’t all on the patient, however, as they also indicate that the signs of post-partum preeclampsia often go undiagnosed for several hours — or overlooked completely — by emergency room physicians who are perhaps not accustomed to looking for obstetrical issues in incoming patients. This is something that, they say, needs to change.

If you have lost a loved one because of what you believe was a misdiagnosis or other form of medical negligence, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your options for uncovering what happened and, if necessary, how to seek justice.

Source: ABC News, “High blood pressure nearly kills mom after normal pregnancy,” Susan Donaldson James, May 20, 2014

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