Avera Medical Minute: Preeclampsia can be harmful & dangerous for pregnant women

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A disease called preeclampisa causes issues during pregnancy to both mother and baby. The diagnosis of the disease has increased six times over two decades.

"With my first pregnancy, I kind of didn't really know what I was in for. I just knew that I wasn't feeling the greatest," Hannah Long said.

She developed preeclampsia at 27 weeks and needed to be hospitalized.

"My blood pressure would just be higher and higher each time," Long said.

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure disorder in pregnancy and can cause early term birth and organ failure.

"It was extremely scary. I was pretty young at that point. We lived in Pierre, South Dakota, so I was immediately sent to Sioux Falls," Long said. "I saw one of the high-risk doctors and at that point, they said I'd probably deliver within the next week."

She delivered her baby boy at 30 weeks. He weighed only 3lbs. 2 oz.

"We started a round of steroids, which helped the little boy's lungs develop. I think they did a couple rounds of those, which was awesome, and it was a very, very scary experience but definitely thankful for the intervention of the providers," she said.

Long is now pregnant with her second child and is monitoring her blood pressure and diet. She is also looking for key signs of the disease like headaches, visual distortions, pain on the right side of the stomach, or swelling.

"I have become her doctor during the second pregnancy, seeing her from about eight weeks on," Dr. Amanda Kappenman said. "So, we've got to know each other very well. But, we've been able to find the risk factors, start her on the baby aspirin. She talked a lot about how she's been trying to watch her weight and diet."

Weight and diet are things pregnant women should watch to prevent preeclampsia. Doctors also recommend that women quit smoking, keep a normal exercise routine, and try to eliminate as much stress as possible. But, the most important thing is getting into the doctor.

"Going to your first OB visit I think is very important because that is where we can identify anything that might come up in your pregnancy, see if you're at higher risk for preeclampsia, and you know start that baby aspirin or talk about ways during pregnancy that we can avoid at getting worse," Dr. Kappenman said.

Long is now about 33 weeks along in her second pregnancy.

"This is the farthest she's ever made it in a pregnancy," Dr. Kappenman said.

Long has some advice for moms that are nervous about preeclampsia.

"I would just say trust in the providers, the doctors. They know what they're doing. Thankfully, I kind of found an OB that pretty much plays by the same rules as me, which I really appreciate," Long said. "I remember my first appointment Dr. Kappenman said to me, 'No, you don't worry. You don't stress. That's my job.' And I am really thankful for that."

There are occasions where new moms develop the disease three to ten days postpartum. But, in most cases, it ends with delivery. Doctors currently do not have a screening test for preeclampsia besides checking blood pressure and testing for protein in the urine. But, the sooner you get to your OB/GYN, the sooner you can receive treatment if necessary.