Preeclampsia Awareness Month is observed in May to promote prenatal care and increase education about preeclampsia, which is a complication of pregnancy in which affected women develop high blood pressure (hypertension). This condition usually occurs in the last few months of pregnancy and often requires early delivery of the infant.
In addition to hypertension, signs and symptoms of preeclampsia can include swelling of the face or hands, headaches, dizziness, irritability, shortness of breath, a decrease in urination, upper abdominal pain, protein in the urine, vomiting, or vision changes. These signs and symptoms usually go away within a few days after the baby is born. In severe cases, however, preeclampsia can damage the mother's organs, such as the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys, and can lead to life-threatening complications. Severe preeclampsia can also affect the fetus, with impairment of blood and oxygen flow leading to growth problems or stillbirth. Infants delivered early due to preeclampsia may have complications associated with prematurity, such as breathing problems caused by underdeveloped lungs.
Preeclampsia is a common condition in all populations, occurring in 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies. It occurs more frequently in women of African or Hispanic descent than it does in women of European descent. Women who have had preeclampsia have approximately twice the lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke than do women in the general population.
While without treatment preeclampsia can lead to serious health problems for both the mother and the infant, Preeclampsia Awareness Month is a time to emphasize that if this condition is well managed, women with preeclampsia can have healthy babies and return to normal health.
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