A study published recently in the American Journal of Perinatology reports a dramatic increase in the incidence of preeclampsia in the United States. Preeclampsia and early onset preeclampsia have grown 67 percent and 140 percent respectively over the past two decades. The rise in this life-threatening condition outpaces that of some of the United States’ most challenging public health concerns, including diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. Preeclampsia is one of the top six causes of maternal mortality in the United States and is associated with infant death and potentially lifelong complications for the mother and newborn.
Preeclampsia is a complication of pregnancy that typically develops after 20 weeks gestation. Early onset preeclampsia is a severe form that occurs before 34 weeks gestation. The condition is characterized by high blood pressure and is thought to be the result of an abnormal interaction of the placenta with the mother’s cardiovascular and immune systems. Today, the only definitive treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the newborn regardless of gestational age.
Mothers with preeclampsia account for approximately 10 percent of births before 34 weeks gestation. Preterm infants, particularly those born at or before 28 weeks, have a greater likelihood of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as higher rates of disability, cognitive delays and behavioral or psychological effects.
“This study demonstrates the growing impact of preterm preeclampsia on pregnant women, their newborns and society,” said Michael Paidas, M.D., Professor & Vice Chair, Obstetrics, and Director, Yale Women and Children’s Center for Blood Disorders and Preeclampsia Advancement, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Yale School of Medicine and a senior author of the study. “The importance of identifying an effective treatment to prolong pregnancy and treat preeclampsia cannot be underestimated.”
The study authors call for additional research and assessments to obtain greater understanding of the societal and economic impact of the disease.