Understanding Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a health condition that develops during pregnancy and is characterized by the presence of high blood pressure. The condition typically appears somewhere around 20 weeks into pregnancy or later and exists in between 5% and 8% of all pregnancies.

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This serious condition doesn’t only affect pregnant women, but also their unborn babies, and can lead to fatal complications for both when left untreated. In fact, preeclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and death throughout the world.

What are the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia?

Elevated blood pressure that rises gradually or suddenly is the main symptom of preeclampsia. The Mayo Clinic explains that if your blood pressure exceeds 140/90 on two separate occasions that are at least four hours apart, this is an indication that your blood pressure is abnormally high.

In addition to high blood pressure, a woman with preeclampsia will also often have the presence of excess protein in her urine and signs of damage to another organ system such as the kidneys and liver. Other signs and symptoms include swelling in the hands or face (edema), severe headaches, sudden weight gain, pain in the upper abdomen, a decrease in urine output, shortness of breath, and changes to vision including blurred vision, light sensitivity, and temporary vision loss.

Is preeclampsia treatable?

Some women suffering from preeclampsia are treated with antihypertensive medications that can lower their blood pressure or medication that’s used to prevent seizures. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, giving birth is the most effective way to treat the condition, though it can still take a while for a woman’s condition to improve even after delivery.

It’s important to monitor your blood pressure during pregnancy and be in touch with your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned. Prenatal care that involves regularly testing your blood pressure, testing your urine for protein, and checking your weight is extremely important, as for many women, preeclampsia may not present any obvious symptoms.

The Preeclampsia Foundation also recommends a balanced and healthy prenatal diet with reduced consumption of refined sugars, caffeine, and processed foods. They also stress the importance of letting your prenatal care provider know about all medications and supplements prescribed by other physicians.

What happens after pregnancy?

Some women develop a condition called postpartum preeclampsia, which is when the preeclampsia sets in somewhere between two days and six weeks after a baby has been delivered. It’s most common in the first week after delivery and can occur both in women who maintain normal blood pressure during pregnancy and those who experience preeclampsia during their pregnancy.

In addition to high blood pressure, women who are suffering from postpartum preeclampsia may experience symptoms including severe headaches, nausea or vomiting, changes in vision such as seeing spots, shortness of breath, swelling in the face or hands, and pain in the upper abdomen. This is a very serious condition that puts women at risk of seizure, stroke, organ damage, and even death, so it’s very important to be in touch with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Proper prenatal care is very important in order to detect and manage preeclampsia. If you have any questions or concerns about preeclampsia and want to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, contact Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.

Staying on Top of Your Sexual Health at Every Age

Staying healthy isn’t only about exercising, eating right, and getting your annual physical exam. Staying on top of your sexual and reproductive health is equally important. We understand that for some women, this can get confusing as the recommendations aren’t necessarily the same for young, middle-aged and older adults.

Four female teachers sitting on steps at entrance of school

To help steer you along, we’ve created a guide to managing your sexual and reproductive health, incorporating tips from womenshealth.gov and other top sources. And we’ve organized it by decade, so it can serve as a helpful resource now and in the years to come, no matter what your age.

In your twenties

  • Start taking between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid each day. This is particularly important if you plan to or may get pregnant important, because it provides protection to unborn babies from serious birth defects.
  • Schedule a yearly appointment with a physician or gynecologist who is knowledgeable about sexual and reproductive health.
  • Speak to your physician about birth control options each year.
  • Let your physician know if you plan to get pregnant within the next year.
  • Discuss your family health history with your physician.
  • Get the HPV vaccine if you haven’t yet done so.
  • Make sure you receive Pap tests and HPV tests at the recommended intervals.
  • Get tested for sexually transmitted infections and speak with your doctor about ways you can protect yourself against them.

In your thirties

  • Continue to take between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid each day.
  • See your gynecologist or primary care physician for a yearly appointment to discuss your sexual and reproductive health, being sure to discuss your family health history.
  • Each year, have a conversation with your physician about whether you plan to get pregnant that year or about your birth control options.
  • Ask your physician if you need to be tested for sexually transmitted infections, HPV, or get a Pap test.
  • Get the HPV vaccine if you haven’t yet done so.
  • Speak with your doctor about ways to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections.

In your forties

  • If you haven’t gone through menopause, continue to take between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid each day.
  • See your gynecologist or physician for a yearly appointment.
  • Speak to your physician about your family health history, including your cancer risk.
  • If you haven’t gone through menopause, speak with your doctor about birth control options or if you plan to get pregnant within the year.
  • Have a conversation with your gynecologist about perimenopause symptoms and what to expect.
  • Ask your gynecologist about whether you need a mammogram. For women ages 45 to 54, these are recommended yearly by the American Cancer Society.
  • Ask your physician if you need a Pap test, STI testing, and/or HPV testing. Make sure you are getting tested at the recommended intervals.
  • Speak with your doctor about ways you can prevent sexually transmitted infections.
  • If you are 45 or younger, get the HPV vaccine if you haven’t yet done so.

In your fifties

  • See your gynecologist or other physician for a yearly appointment and be sure to discuss your family health history.
  • Speak to your doctor about menopause and menopause symptoms.
  • If you still get a menstrual period, talk with your physician about birth control options.
  • Ask your doctor if you need STI testing, and speak with them about ways you can prevent sexually transmitted infections.
  • Continue to get necessary Pap and HPV tests at the recommended intervals.
  • See your doctor for a mammogram every year through age 54, and every other year from that point on (or continue on a yearly schedule).

In your sixties

  • See your gynecologist or physician for a yearly appointment.
  • Make sure you have a mammogram done every other year.
  • When you’re 65 and younger, make sure you’re getting necessary Pap and HPV tests.
  • For women over the age of 65, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health recommends Pap tests only if you’ve never been tested, or if you haven’t been tested at any point since reaching age 60.
  • Get tested for sexually transmitted infections, if necessary, and talk with your physician about ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
  • Speak to your physician about cancer risk.

In your seventies

  • Get necessary mammograms if you are 74 or younger.
  • Get testing for sexually transmitted infections, if necessary, and talk with your physician about ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
  • Speak to your physician about your cancer risk.

In your eighties and nineties

  • Speak to your doctor about your cancer risk.
  • Get testing for sexually transmitted infections, if necessary.

If you have any concerns about your sexual and reproductive health and want to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, contact Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.

Important Yet Overlooked: Placenta Health

Though the placenta plays an extremely important role in human development, it isn’t talked about all that much. The placenta is an organ that develops within the uterus during pregnancy, and is delivered vaginally following child birth. Some say a healthy placenta is the most important component of developing a healthy baby—this is because it plays a few key roles. One is that it brings oxygen and nutrients to the developing baby through the umbilical cord. Another is that it takes away waste away from the baby’s blood. Third, the placenta plays a role in providing immune protection to developing babies.

Placenta Health

A healthy placenta is crucial to a healthy pregnancy, but the health of your placenta can be affected by numerous factors such as blood pressure, blood clotting disorders, maternal age (for example, problems with the placenta are more common in women who are older than 40), trauma to the abdomen, substance misuse, and a history of uterine surgery. Women with placenta problems may experience signs and symptoms like abdominal pain, heavy vaginal bleeding, uterine contractions, and back pain.

Some of the most common placenta-related medical conditions include:

  • Placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery and can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients. This condition may also cause heavy bleeding in the mother.
  • Placenta previa, in which the placenta sits very low in the uterus and partially or fully covers the cervix. This condition is common in the earlier parts of pregnancy and can involve very heavy bleeding.
  • Placenta accreta, where parts of the placenta grow deeply into the uterine wall, often leading the placenta to remain attached to the uterine wall after childbirth.

It can be difficult to prevent placenta problems, but there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk and work towards a healthy pregnancy. One of the most important things you can do is to see your healthcare provider regularly to maintain your overall health and to manage any existing conditions that may potentially affect the health of your placenta.

The placenta is the least studied of all human organs, but in recent years there’s been an abundance of new research. Here are a few noteworthy projects related to placenta health that may lay the groundwork for gathering new information about the role of the placenta in human health and development:

  • Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) have been working on the the Human Placenta Project, which aims to understand more about the role that the placenta plays in the health of mothers and children, as well as in the development of disease throughout each stage of pregnancy. You can read more about the project
  • Scientists have been developing miniature, lab-grown placentas to learn more about conditions like stillbirth, pre-eclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction, and miscarriage. These lab-grown placentas are also being used in other interesting and important ways such as studying how infections like Zika impact unborn babies. In the future, they may be even be used to check the safety of drugs taken during pregnancy and to see how hormones may indicate if a placenta isn’t functioning properly and is at risk for complications.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com to schedule an appointment.