Bioethics Blogs

Preeclampsia: Study Highlights Need for More Effective Treatment, Prevention


It’s well known that preeclampsia, a condition characterized by a progressive rise in a pregnant woman’s blood pressure and appearance of protein in the urine, can have negative, even life-threatening impacts on the health of both mother and baby. Now, NIH-funded researchers have documented that preeclampsia is also taking a very high toll on our nation’s economic well-being. In fact, their calculations show that, in 2012 alone, preeclampsia-related care cost the U.S. health care system more than $2 billion.

These findings are especially noteworthy because preeclampsia rates in the United States have been steadily rising over the past 30 years, fueled in part by increases in average maternal age and weight. This highlights the urgent need for more research to develop new and more effective strategies to protect the health of all mothers and their babies.

The causes of preeclampsia remain somewhat mysterious, though recent data suggest a role for proteins produced by the placenta. Because preeclampsia affects a pregnant woman’s vascular system, her unborn child can be deprived of needed oxygen and nutrients. In mild cases, the condition can often be managed with careful monitoring and blood pressure medications. But if the symptoms become severe and potentially life-threatening to either mother or child, the only answer is to induce early delivery, which carries its own health risks and high health care costs.

In the study reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, a team led by Anupam Jena at Harvard Medical School, Boston, set out for the first time to quantify those costs up to a year after delivery.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.