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Preeclampsia Doesn't Always End After You Give Birth

May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month. Preeclampsia is the number one pregnancy disorder facing pregnant people today, and it doesn’t necessarily end when you give birth.

Preeclampsia, eclampsia, and HELLP syndrome are all considered hypertensive disorders in pregnancy. Most people think that once the baby is out, everything will be fine. They don’t realize there are quite serious potential long-term side effects of having had preeclampsia.

In 2007 I gave birth to my first child. He was born prematurely due to early-onset severe preeclampsia. I also went on to develop eclampsia. I came far too close to death giving birth to my son, and it nearly took his life too.

Fast forward to 2010, I gave birth to my second child. He was also premature due to early-onset severe preeclampsia. Lastly, in 2011 I gave birth to my twins. This was now my third time developing early-onset severe preeclampsia and I also developed HELLP syndrome.

I never had high blood pressure prior to having preeclampsia and it did not go away after giving birth. I continued taking my blood pressure medication as prescribed and my doctor assured me that it just happens sometimes. Sometimes BP goes back to normal, but that doesn’t always happen. Nobody seemed worried, so I wasn’t worried. That is until about five years out. I woke up one day and I just couldn’t move. I could barely breathe and when I did stand up I had to sit within about two minutes. I felt awful. This progressed for a few hours, so I went to the ER. The following day I was diagnosed with atrial tachycardia and a flutter. They blamed my consistent high blood pressure for these heart issues.

Another five years went by and I had a stroke. At this time I was seeing neurology and cardiology specialists. After a long series of various tests, it all came back to the common denominator of preeclampsia. Ten years later preeclampsia still had a hold on my life; how is that possible? Well, according to The Preeclampsia Foundation, “Women who have had preeclampsia have three to four times the risk of high blood pressure and double the risk for heart disease and stroke.” Research also shows that those who give birth prematurely, have an SGA baby, and those who have had it more than once have higher risk factors. This does not mean that every person with preeclampsia is going to end up like me, or even remotely close to what happened to me. This is to make you aware so you can discuss options now with your doctor on maintaining a healthy heart lifestyle.

I never thought any of this would happen to me. I had no idea what preeclampsia even was prior to getting it, and unfortunately, there is no way to know who will develop it. There are certain characteristics that put you at higher risk, but I had none of them. Some people may have all of them and not get it. It’s terrifying how fast it can come on. I encourage all pregnant individuals to do a little research on it. Know the symptoms. This goes for those who have had it as well. Please look into these potential side effects and know the symptoms. I am not the same person I once was. I hope by relaying this message I can help prevent possible heart disease and/or stroke in other survivors of preeclampsia.

Getty image by Justin Paget.

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