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With proper diagnostic testing, pre-eclampsia can be managed

Last year, the death of 32-year-old track-and-field star Tori Bowie after she went into labor prematurely highlighted the serious condition of eclampsia as well as pre-eclampsia in pregnant women in the spotlight. Bowie’s death was found to have been caused in part by eclampsia. Her baby was stillborn. 

Two other former Olympic gold medalists and teammates of Bowie, Allyson Felix and Tianna Bartoletta, suffered pre-eclampsia during their pregnancies, but they and their babies survived. Both pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are especially common in Black women like these three athletes.

Pre-eclampsia, which is dangerous because of the severe high pressure associated with it, is the primary risk factor for developing eclampsia. The latter can result in seizures and death. Women who already have high blood pressure are most at risk of developing pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, but it can happen to anyone.

How pre-eclampsia can be diagnosed early

With close monitoring of blood pressure during pregnancy – particularly of women in high-risk groups, pre-eclampsia can be diagnosed, treated and prevented from becoming eclampsia. Regular urine tests, which can show whether protein is present (another indicator of pre-eclampsia) can also help.

Further, just last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a blood test that can identify whether a woman is at immediate risk of developing pre-eclampsia. On a particularly distressing note, one maternal fetal medicine professor called this test “the first step forward in pre-eclampsia diagnostics since 1900, when the condition was first defined.” The test was already being used in Europe for pregnant women in their last trimester hospitalized for high blood pressure.

Why do doctors still fail to diagnose pre-eclampsia?

Too many women aren’t diagnosed for pre-eclampsia (and other preventable and treatable conditions) because they aren’t in a “high risk” category. It doesn’t help that the only symptoms of pre-eclampsia that some women experience at first are headaches and swelling, which are common during pregnancy. Without specific testing for pre-eclampsia to find it early, it can escalate and become dangerous quickly.

If you believe that you or a loved one suffered harm because of a doctor’s failure to do the appropriate diagnostic testing or recognize symptoms of a serious condition, it’s wise to seek legal guidance. This can help you determine whether you have a medical malpractice claim.