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Preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome: dangers of misdiagnosis

A serious birth injury can affect both mothers and children alike. Preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome are two of the deadlier disorders of pregnancy and birth. Unfortunately, a medical care system that focuses more on the well-being of the infant can overlook serious symptoms of the mother.

Preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome kill approximately 70 women in the United States every year. The illness, when appropriately diagnosed, is highly treatable. But if a physician allows the disorder to go unchecked, families may need to find solutions for the damages that can be fatal to both mother and child. In Chicago, this may mean consulting with an attorney.

What is preeclampsia and HELLP?

Preeclampsia is a disorder of the placenta, the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus while it is in the womb. Symptoms of preeclampsia include swelling, headaches and high blood pressure. The disorder can affect up to five percent of all pregnant women. The traditional belief about treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby.

HELLP syndrome results when severe preeclampsia is untreated. The syndrome can lead to liver and kidney failure. The cells in the blood break down and there is a loss of platelets. This combination of factors can contribute to dangerous bleeding. The two disorders create serious trouble for babies and mothers during labor and delivery.

Why is it misdiagnosed?

Physicians sometimes misdiagnose preeclampsia and HELLP and delay important medical intervention. The symptoms of preeclampsia, especially the symptom of gastric pain, mimic indigestion, and doctors sometimes misdiagnose the pain a mother is describing as heartburn. Also, since some doctors think that delivery is the best treatment for preeclampsia, they might forgo other important medical interventions. The reality is that many women die after the delivery due to the ailment.

How can doctors and hospitals better serve women?

Experts agree that doctors, hospitals and nursing staff can better serve women by monitoring specifically for this illness of birth. Experts also argue that delivery is not the only treatment for the disorder, and hospitals should take steps to have medicines and treatments on hand. Individuals who have studied the disorder believe that women should challenge the notion that dangerous circumstances are a regular part of birth.

When physicians understand that birth can be catastrophic for women, they say, doctors will be better prepared to make fast and effective medical interventions in an emergency. When physicians heed warning signs, tests, and precautions, women and children are safer during birth.  

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