I am a huge fan of Downton Abbey on PBS. The characters, the story lines, the costumes – all are top notch. One of my favorite parts of the show is the depiction of medical care in the early 1900s. They have illustrated the realities of the Spanish flu epidemic, the treatment and rehabilitation of soldiers in World War I, and now devastating pregnancy complications. In the last episode, one of the beloved daughters dies after her preeclampsia goes undiagnosed and she develops a full-blown eclamptic seizure.
Preeclampsia is still a leading cause of maternal death around the world. I just diagnosed a patient with it this morning. She came for her routine OB visit, now 3 days past her due date. Her blood pressure was 168/105 (normal is less than 140/90) and she had protein in her urine. She said she felt completely fine and was shocked when I told her she had to go to the hospital immediately, and likely would be delivering her baby today. That’s the thing about this disease – it comes on without warning, in completely healthy women, and often has no symptoms.
Ten years ago, 29 weeks pregnant with my son, I found myself with the same fate. Out of nowhere, my blood pressure skyrocketed to 180/100. I was taken directly from my office to the hospital, still in disbelief that this was happening to me. My son was born prematurely and I battled the high blood pressure for nearly a month after delivery. Thankfully, he was fine, and I recovered as well.
I often think of my situation – and how lucky I was that my disease was caught early, and that I had access to great medical care. Had I been born in a different time or even in a different country today, I know I would not have survived. It scares me to think of how dangerous pregnancy can be. Even women living here in the US with great doctors can be victims of this tragedy.
I hope all pregnant women will take the time to learn about this disease, identify any risk factors they may have, and ask their doctors questions. By doing this, we honor the memory of the moms and babies who weren’t as lucky.