World Preeclampsia Day: Reducing Preventable Deaths From Preeclampsia

Posted on

By: Eleni Tsigas, Executive Director, Preeclampsia Foundation

World Preeclampsia Day 2017As a leading cause of maternal mortality, preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy claim the lives of nearly 76,000 mothers and 500,000 babies worldwide every year. To raise awareness about preeclampsia as a life-threatening complication of pregnancy, maternal health organizations around the world are joining forces to host the first-ever World Preeclampsia Day on 22 May.

Co-sponsors BabyCenter, Ending Eclampsia/USAID, the International Society for the Study of Hypertension in Pregnancy and PRE-EMPT (Pre-eclampsia & Eclampsia Monitoring, Prevention & Treatment) join the Preeclampsia Foundation on this global initiative. Participating organizations will host events in their communities to bring attention to the global impact of preeclampsia.

The proclamation endorsed by World Preeclampsia Day co-sponsors and many other maternal health organizations calls on the maternal health community to recognize the global burden of preeclampsia:

We join together to bring to light the relatively high prevalence and devastating impact of preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy including eclampsia and hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelet count (HELLP) syndrome. These disorders are not rare complications of pregnancy; indeed, they affect 8-10% of pregnancies worldwide.

Additional data demonstrate the global impact of preeclampsia:

World Preeclampsia Day’s theme—“Be prepared before lightning strikes”—highlights the importance of early symptom recognition because preeclampsia can occur quickly, without warning.

All women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant should talk to a health care provider about the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia that may present during pregnancy and up to six weeks postpartum.

Preeclampsia can occur any time after the 20th week of pregnancy and is marked by elevated blood pressure and usually—but not always—protein in the urine. Women should contact a health care provider immediately if any of the following symptoms occurs:

  • Severe headache that does not go away even with medication
  • Swelling of the face and hands
  • Weight gain of more than five pounds in one week
  • Difficulty breathing, gasping or panting
  • Nausea after mid-pregnancy
  • Changes in vision (spots, light flashes or vision loss)
  • Upper right belly pain often mistaken for indigestion or the flu
  • Reduced baby movement

Women are commonly told that the “cure” for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby. While premature delivery is often necessary to save the life of the mother and the baby, delivery does not always immediately halt the effects of preeclampsia, which in some cases can even present for the first time up to six weeks after delivery.

Women should take the following actions to monitor their pregnancies and reduce preeclampsia risk:

  • Talk to a health care provider before or early in pregnancy about preeclampsia risk
  • Attend all prenatal appointments
  • Monitor blood pressure and weight regularly, and contact health care provider immediately if either becomes unexpectedly high
  • Know family history, especially for pregnancy, high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight

Far too many lives are taken or seriously affected by maternal hypertensive disorders, underscoring the importance of symptom recognition and timely and effective response by trained health care workers. This is especially true in areas where there are many barriers to accessing high quality maternal health care.

Learn more about participating in World Preeclampsia Day.

Join the conversation on social media using #WorldPreeclampsiaDay.

Read more about preeclampsia on the MHTF blog.

Download and share the Obstetric Emergency Drills Training Kit, a resource for clinicians seeking ways to prepare for obstetric emergencies such as preeclampsia (available in English and Spanish).