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The Risks of Preeclampsia: How It Affects the Mother and the Baby

Written by Berkowitz

Pregnant woman in the prenatal hospital, expectant female on the third trimester checking her health before childbirth

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure disorder that is relatively common during pregnancy. Medical News Today describes preeclampsia as “the most common complication to occur during pregnancy,” and the Cleveland Clinic reports that preeclampsia “complicates up to 8% of all deliveries worldwide.” 

But, while preeclampsia may be relatively common, it is not a condition that can be ignored. It presents risks for both the mother and the baby, and it has the potential for permanent or fatal consequences if left undiagnosed and untreated. 

Risks of Preeclampsia for the Mother

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development characterizes preeclampsia as a “mild complication” for most expecting mothers who develop the disorder. However, it also notes that “a woman can progress from mild to severe preeclampsia or to full eclampsia very quickly―even in a matter of days.” Some of the most severe risks associated with preeclampsia for mothers during pregnancy include: 

  • Cardiovascular Complications – The high blood pressure characteristic of preeclampsia can cause cardiovascular complications for expecting mothers. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, preeclampsia “mainly damages the heart’s ability to relax between contractions, making the organ overworked and poor at pumping blood.” In severe cases, this can present a risk for heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. 
  • Cognitive Disorders – The high blood pressure that is characteristic of preeclampsia can also cause damage to the brain, and this can, in turn, lead to cognitive disorders. While relatively rare compared to the other maternal risks associated with preeclampsia, the risk of cognitive disorders cannot be overlooked when an expecting mother presents with risk factors or exhibits symptoms of preeclampsia. 
  • Eclampsia – Eclampsia is classified as a severe pregnancy complication, and it has the potential to be fatal without proper treatment. During eclampsia, an expecting mother will experience seizures due to severely elevated blood pressure. The effects of eclampsia can be managed effectively with appropriate medical care, and, if managed effectively, symptoms will generally resolve in a matter of weeks following delivery. However, experiencing eclampsia can increase the risk of developing blood pressure disorders during subsequent pregnancies and potentially in the future without additional pregnancies. 
  • Kidney Damage – Preeclampsia can potentially lead to forms of kidney damage including, “acute kidney injury, endothelial damage, and podocyte loss.” Like eclampsia, these conditions can often be managed with appropriate care but can present significant risks if not diagnosed and treated promptly. 
  • Liver Damage – Along with kidney damage, liver damage is among the most common severe maternal complications of preeclampsia. HELLP syndrome, a severe form of preeclampsia, is characterized by a breakdown of the red blood cells and low platelet count, both of which can cause damage to the liver.
  • Placental Abruption – Placental abruption is a pregnancy complication in which the placenta separates from the uterus. This can potentially lead to premature delivery, loss of pregnancy, or stillbirth, all of which present their own risks for the expecting mother. 

Preeclampsia can also present risks for new mothers after giving birth to their babies. According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, “women who had preeclampsia are four times more likely to later develop hypertension (high blood pressure) and are twice as likely to later develop ischemic heart disease (reduced blood supply to the heart muscle, which can cause heart attacks), a blood clot in a vein, and stroke.” Permanent organ damage is a long-term maternal risk associated with preeclampsia, including permanent damage to the brain, kidneys, heart, and liver. 

Risks of Preeclampsia for the Baby

The risks of preeclampsia for babies result from two primary factors: (i) effects on the mother, which impact the pregnancy, and (ii) lack of oxygen and/or nutrition. While treatment and recovery are possible in many cases, preeclampsia can also have long-term, permanent, and fatal consequences. Some of the primary risks of preeclampsia for the baby include

  • Brain Damage and Cognitive Disorders – Lack of oxygen during pregnancy or delivery can damage a baby’s brain and potentially result in cognitive disorders. This includes learning disabilities and cerebral palsy. Damage to a baby’s brain caused by preeclampsia can also cause deafness, blindness, epilepsy, and other medical conditions. 
  • Blood and Heart Disorders – Lack of oxygen and/or nutrition during pregnancy due to preeclampsia can limit the fetus’s growth before birth. This can result in being “at higher risk of diabetes, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure.” 
  • Risks Associated with Preterm Birth – Preeclampsia can result in preterm birth, and this presents its own set of risks for the baby.  These risks include heart and brain complications, hypothermia, gastrointestinal distress, metabolic disorders, and blood disorders. 
  • Stillbirth or Infant Death – Severe cases of preeclampsia present risks for stillbirth or infant death. This includes cases of HELLP syndrome, which can also present mortality risks for the mother. 

Medical and Non-Medical Costs Associated with Preeclampsia 

When preeclampsia leads to complications for the mother or the baby, the family’s medical and non-medical costs can be substantial. This is especially so when preeclampsia leads to the need for lifetime care (for the mother or the baby). Beyond medical expenses, complications from preeclampsia can also result in loss of earnings, loss of earning capacity, physical pain, emotional suffering, and other financial and non-financial losses. 

When Can Families Seek Financial Compensation for Preeclampsia? 

While preeclampsia occurs naturally, it can be prevented and treated in most cases. As a result, when preeclampsia leads to complications, families will often have claims against their healthcare providers for medical malpractice. By filing medical malpractice claims, families can recover compensation for the financial and non-financial costs of their providers’ mistakes. This can be essential for coping with and managing the effects of preeclampsia complications. 

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Connecticut Birth Injury Lawyer at Berkowitz Hanna

If you need to know more about seeking financial compensation for the effects of complications from preeclampsia, we encourage you to get in touch. To speak with an experienced Connecticut birth injury lawyer at Berkowitz Hanna, call or request a free consultation online today.