Preeclampsia Foundation: National Resource In Brevard
By Debbie Helton, Preeclampsia Foundation // July 27, 2014
HEIGHTENED AWARENESS KEY TO TIMELY MANAGEMENT OF LIFE-THREATENING CONDITION
ABOVE VIDEO: To help spread the word, the Preeclampsia Foundation is encouraging supporters to download and share this short animated video called Preeclampsia: 7 Symptoms Every Pregnant Woman Should Know. It’s available in English and Spanish at www.preeclampsia.org/PreAM.
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA — The Preeclampsia Foundation© – it’s one of Brevard’s best-kept healthcare secrets that serves as a resource for patients and providers across the country.
As the nation’s only patient advocacy organization for preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, the Preeclampsia Foundation shines a light on one of pregnancy’s most common complications.
Moved to Melbourne in 2010, also home to its Executive Director Eleni Tsigas, the Preeclampsia Foundation celebrates 14 years of service in August and is now a sustainable, mission-driven, results-oriented organization.
Tsigas, a preeclampsia survivor herself who had two of her three pregnancies seriously impacted by preeclampsia, is a relentless champion for what was once considered a “rare and orphaned” disease – not because preeclampsia was rare, but because it was “orphaned” and had no advocacy group working on its behalf.
Far from rare, preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders are a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death. Globally, by conservative estimates, these disorders are responsible for 76,000 maternal and 500,000 infant deaths every year.
In the United States, preeclampsia affects one of every 12 pregnancies, and its incidence has increased by 25 percent over the past two decades.
With five percent to eight percent of all pregnancies affected by preeclampsia, this life-threatening condition impacts from 250 to 400 pregnancies in Brevard County each year.
AWARENESS SAVES LIVES
Sometimes referred to by older names such as toxemia or pregnancy induced hypertension, preeclampsia occurs during pregnancy and up to six weeks after delivery, and affects both mother and baby.
It’s a rapidly progressive condition unique to pregnancy and characterized by elevated blood pressure and protein in the urine.
Most women with preeclampsia will deliver healthy babies, but a number will experience complications, some of which may be life-threatening to themselves or their babies.
For expectant and new moms, it’s the unexpected that can quickly change the course of normal pregnancies.
“The more a pregnant woman knows about preeclampsia, the more likely she is to recognize and report symptoms to her doctor or midwife,” said Tsigas.
“That improves time to diagnosis and medical evaluation, which saves lives – for both mothers and babies. And that’s why we’re so focused on improving awareness of preeclampsia.”
SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR EDUCATION
In conjunction with Preeclampsia Awareness Month in May, the Preeclampsia Foundation announced findings of a recent nationwide awareness survey.
The survey of expectant and new moms by BabyCenter®, the #1 pregnancy and parenting digital resource, showed high overall awareness of preeclampsia and that it is serious and associated with high blood pressure. There was also near universal knowledge to call a healthcare provider if experiencing symptoms of preeclampsia.
“But there’s more to do,” said Tsigas, “because the survey showed low awareness when respondents were asked about the specific symptoms associated with preeclampsia. So while they knew that preeclampsia is serious, even life-threatening, and to call a doctor if they had symptoms, they weren’t sure about the symptoms.
“The findings also indicated low awareness that women with preeclampsia are at risk for heart disease and stroke in the long-term, and that the condition can occur even after the baby is delivered, up to six weeks postpartum. It’s a sad fact that most mothers who die from preeclampsia do so after delivery. This is an important time to watch carefully for declining health.”
PREECLAMPSIA PLEDGE: KNOW THE SYMPTOMS. SPREAD THE WORD.
Based on these survey findings, the Preeclampsia Foundation has launched an education campaign to increase awareness of the symptoms of preeclampsia – Preeclampsia Pledge: Know the Symptoms. Spread the Word.
Because early recognition and reporting of symptoms is the key to timely detection and management of preeclampsia, women who are pregnant or recently delivered should contact their doctor or midwife right away if they experience any of these symptoms.
While they don’t necessarily indicate preeclampsia, they are cause for concern and require immediate medical evaluation such as measuring mother’s blood pressure and other vital signs.
- Swelling of the hands and face, especially around the eyes (swelling of the feet is more common in late pregnancy and probably not a sign of preeclampsia)
- Weight gain of more than five pounds in a week
- Headache that won’t go away, even after taking medication for pain relief
- Changes in vision like seeing spots or flashing lights; partial or total loss of eyesight
- Nausea or throwing up, especially suddenly, after mid pregnancy (not the morning sickness that many women experience in early pregnancy)
- Upper right belly pain, sometimes mistaken for indigestion or the flu
- Difficulty breathing, gasping, or panting
It’s also important to know that some women with preeclampsia have NO symptoms or they “just don’t feel right.” If you’re pregnant and sense that something’s wrong, even without symptoms, trust yourself and contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Preeclampsia can only be diagnosed by monitoring blood pressure and protein in the urine, and paying attention to other symptoms that may indicate other organ damage — which is routinely done at prenatal appointments, so keeping all appointments is vital throughout pregnancy and immediately after delivery.
ADVANCING THE CAUSE
The Preeclampsia Foundation was instrumental in securing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designation of May as National Preeclampsia Awareness Month on the U.S. National Health Observances Calendar.
The Foundation also established The Preeclampsia Registry™, a patient and family database designed to aid and accelerate preeclampsia research. The first of its kind to focus solely on hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, The Preeclampsia Registry brings together survivors, family members, and researchers from all over the world.
If you or a family member EVER had preeclampsia or high blood pressure in pregnancy, enroll today in The Preeclampsia Registry at www.PreeclampsiaRegistry.org. If you have questions, please email Registry@Preeclampsia.org.
During Preeclampsia Awareness Month in May, the Preeclampsia Foundation hosted Promise Walks for Preeclampsia ™ in 38 cities across the country as well as a virtual Promise Walk.
The events ranged from walks to 5K runs and featured guest speakers, appearances by media personalities, free blood pressure screenings, silent auctions, raffles, family activities, and memorial events. “We’re delighted with the enthusiasm our volunteers have demonstrated for The Promise Walk for Preeclampsia this year,” said Poye. “We’re very excited by the momentum we’re seeing in 2014, since we know that greater awareness and knowledge result in healthier birth outcomes.”
For more information, contact Debbie Helton at the Preeclampsia Foundation; Debbie.Helton@preeclampsia.org or 321-421-6957.
Preeclampsia Fast Facts
• What is preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is a serious disorder related to high blood pressure. It can happen to any pregnant woman during the second half of her pregnancy, or up to six weeks after delivery.
• How is preeclampsia diagnosed?
Preeclampsia is diagnosed by the presence of high blood pressure and, usually, protein in the urine. This is why the mother’s blood pressure and urine are checked at every prenatal appointment.
• Who is at risk for preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia affects as many as one in every 12 pregnancies, including pregnant women who have no risk factors. These factors increase the risk of developing preeclampsia:
- First pregnancy
- Preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- Kidney disease
- Over 40 or under 18 years of age
- High blood pressure before pregnancy
- Diabetes before or during pregnancy
- Multiple gestations (e.g., twins, triplets)
- Obesity (BMI>30)
- Lupus or other autoimmune disorders
- Some blood clotting disorders
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- In vitro fertilization
- Sickle cell disease
• What causes preeclampsia and can it be prevented?
The cause of preeclampsia remains unknown and there is no sure way to prevent it. Several prevention strategies have been tested, but none have proven to be successful for all women. Low dose aspirin may help some women at high risk. Calcium has been studied and may be helpful in certain populations, but the results do not support widespread adoption in the U.S. Bed rest has not been found to prevent or treat preeclampsia. Exercise may be beneficial, particularly if started before pregnancy, to improve heart health and maintain a healthy weight.
• What are the possible consequences of preeclampsia?
Most cases are not severe and occur near term with healthy outcomes if diagnosed and managed promptly. Preeclampsia can, however, be very dangerous for mother and baby, progressing quite rapidly in some cases. Risks to mom include seizures, stroke, and organ damage, and premature birth for baby. Both mom and baby could die.
• How is preeclampsia treated?
Nothing can reverse the disease process, but medical interventions may include:
- steroids for fetal lung maturation for premature babies
- magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures associated with eclampsia
- anti-hypertensive medications to control significantly high blood pressure
- and ultimately delivery of the baby, regardless of gestational age
Help Save a Life Today
To help save the lives of babies and mothers adversely affected by preeclampsia, make your donation at www.preeclampsia.org/donate where you can pay securely online by credit card, or you can choose to mail your check to:
6767 N. Wickham Road, Suite 400
Melbourne, FL 32940
Tax ID Number: 91-2073087
The Preeclampsia Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide patient support and education, raise public awareness, catalyze research, and improve healthcare practices. It envisions a world where preeclampsia no longer threatens the lives of mothers and babies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Debbie Helton, APR, CPRC, has a 25+ year career as a healthcare marketing communications professional in Brevard County. Debbie currently works as Director of Marketing and Communications for the Preeclampsia Foundation, the nation’s only patient advocacy organization for preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Debbie joined the Foundation after 20+ years with Health First, where she worked as Corporate Director of Marketing and Communications and more recently as Patient Relations and Volunteer Services Manager at Health First Viera Hospital. Debbie has also provided her marketing communications expertise to Philips Healthcare and Florida Pain Institute.