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New research offers a comprehensive plan to reduce risk of preeclampsia in moms considered at risk for the condition.

In research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers describe preeclampsia as a “ multisystemic disorder of pregnancy” experienced by approximately 250,000 women in the US each year.  Preeclampsia often occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy and can trigger severe health impacts including stroke, seizure, blood clots, and organ damage including brain, liver, and kidney impairment.

Recognizing risk factors for preeclampsia and effective treatment is critical to reducing the damage associated with the condition. Preeclampsia can also lead to preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction (when vascular restriction limits baby’s growth), and low birth weight. The condition may cause mom to hemorrhage following birth leading to blood loss, shock, and even death.

There are several risk factors for preeclampsia, including:

  • Existing issues with high blood pressure, kidney or autoimmune disease, or diabetes.
  • Prior experience of preeclampsia during a pregnancy, or family history of preeclampsia
  • Pregnancy with multiples—or never having been pregnant before
  • Complications in a prior pregnancy including low birthweight
  • Obesity or age (over 35)

The new plan takes a comprehensive approach with strategies currently used to prevent or treat preeclampsia. Developed by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, study author Dr. James Roberts notes, “The plan outlines medications, monitoring, behavioral modification, education, and considerations for social determinants of health,” Roberts said in a statement. “It is designed to be as safe, cost-effective, and practical to implement in real-world practice as possible.”

Aspects of the plan include:

  • Assessment for physical and social risk factors
  • Recommendations and information about sleep, diet, exercise, and other behavior factors
  • Medication recommendations
  • Surveillance by patient and provider for symptoms of preeclampsia
  • Home monitoring of blood pressure
  • Patient modification of behavioral factors

Researchers intend the plan to be applied throughout pregnancy, delivery, and into postpartum weeks. Flexibility is a key feature to address the needs of patients with differing levels of risk for preeclampsia.  The study discusses the appropriateness of low-dose aspirin for pregnant women with moderate to high risk for preeclampsia and stresses the modifiability of the plan to meet the needs of unique patients.

The care plan applies to all providers working with a patient during her pregnancy. The study notes the difficulty of “informing healthcare providers, who are not primarily involved in the care of pregnant persons, of the special considerations for specific signs and symptoms of preeclampsia during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.”  In other words, a care plan can only be effective when it is used.

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