During pregnancy, there are several complications that a mother and their doctor need to watch out for; one of the main ones is preeclampsia, or high blood pressure and kidney problems (ex: proteinuria–or excess protein in urine). The exact cause of preeclampsia likely involves several factors. Experts believe that the core of the problem lies in the placenta–the organ that nourishes the fetus during pregnancy. Blood vessels develop in order to supply the placenta with oxygen and nutrients. But, when these blood vessels don’t develop or work properly, this can lead to problems with blood circulation in the placenta and therefore affect blood pressure in general. If left untreated, this condition can be serious–and even fatal–for the mother and baby. For the baby, in most cases, this means restricted growth and preterm birth.
Preeclampsia affects 5-8% of all pregnancies. However, the preeclampsia rate is 60% higher in black women than white women (Preeclampsia.Org). Black women are also more likely to develop severe preeclampsia. This could be due to underlying higher rates of chronic diseases known to be risk factors for preeclampsia. Although it is difficult to control all of these risk factors at once, it is feasible to improve telehealth and remote monitoring, as well as develop biomarkers to diagnose preeclampsia early on in order to prevent severe complications.
Women who are affected by preeclampsia may want to stay away from doctors offices during the COVID-19 pandemic because this condition puts them at a higher risk for developing severe COVID complications. Even regardless of COVID, it may be difficult for a pregnant woman–perhaps one of lower socioeconomic status who may struggle with finding transportation–to have access to a doctor to help them manage their conditions early on. Telehealth can be far more convenient and effective at preventing severe preeclampsia.
In addition, we need to encourage the development of biomarkers that will help us detect conditions like preeclampsia sooner and more effectively. Diagnostic tools beyond detecting high blood pressure and protein in urine will help to address preeclampsia in a timely manner.