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A child puts a stethoscope on a pregnant woman's abdomen

Preeclampsia Is a Leading Cause of Maternal Death — Know the Warning Signs

By Dr. Dona Perry, Strategic Medical Director, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

Maintaining your health takes on a new level of importance when a baby enters the picture, especially if you’re a Black woman. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. Several factors contribute to these disparities — differences in the quality of healthcare, underlying chronic conditions, structural racism and implicit or unintended bias.

All women should focus on good health to prepare for a healthy pregnancy. To do that, it’s important to make sure all health issues are under control, avoid exposure to chemicals, and don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Talk to your doctor about supplements you may need. If you take over-the-counter or prescription medicines, ask your doctor whether they’ll be safe to take during pregnancy.

Many women have high blood pressure during and after pregnancy — a condition called preeclampsia that can cause kidney and liver damage. For those affected, it’s critical to get treatment because it can put mom and baby at risk during pregnancy and birth. 

High blood pressure and the complications it causes are among the leading causes of maternal death. Preeclampsia is one of the most common and severe disorders that occur after about 20 weeks of pregnancy and into postpartum. It affects 5 to 8% of all pregnancies — but is 60% higher in Black women than in white women. 

If you have any of these urgent maternal warning signs, get medical help immediately: 

  • A headache that doesn’t go away.
  • Changes in eyesight like blurry vision or seeing spots.
  • Pain in your upper stomach area.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Swelling in your hands or face.
  • Drastic weight gain outside pregnancy standards.
  • Having difficulty breathing.

If anything else doesn’t feel right or is concerning, don’t second guess yourself. Talk to a health care provider.

The above material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician. Physicians and other health care providers are encouraged to use their own best medical judgment based upon all available information and the condition of the patient in determining the best course of treatment.

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association