Pregnancy can be stressful enough as is without the looming threat of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus which has played a huge role in our lives since the beginning of 2020. However, new research suggests that contracting this virus during pregnancy can have serious or life-threatening effects. According to Medical XPress, researchers determined that this heightens the risk of developing preeclampsia. Interested in taking a deeper look at the study? The full findings are published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
But wait, you might be asking – what is preeclampsia and why is it so worrisome? The Mayo Clinic explains that:
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication [which usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy] characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system, most often the liver and kidneys. Left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious – even fatal – complications for both you and your baby.
Doctors believe that a variety of factors play a role in preeclampsia development. For example, blood vessels designed to be sent to the placenta are narrow and poorly functioning, sometimes due to genetics, immune system issues, or blood vessel damage. Additional risk factors include chronic hypertension, having your first pregnancy, a family history of preeclampsia, age, being obese, being Black, or in vitro fertilization.
During pregnancy, preeclampsia is not the only complication characterized by high blood pressure. Patients may also have chronic or gestational hypertension or chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia may present with a variety of symptoms, including:
- Slowly developing or sudden onset high blood pressure, defined as 140/90mm Hg or more on two separate occasions
- Severe headaches
- Upper abdominal pain
- Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
- Vision changes (vision loss, light sensitivity, blurred vision)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Impaired liver function
- Proteinuria (excess protein in the urine)
- Sudden weight gain and swelling in the face and hands
Additionally, without careful treatment and monitoring, complications may occur. These include:
- Premature birth
- Poor fetal growth (fetal growth restriction)
- Placental abruption (when the placenta separates from uterine wall)
- Eclampsia (preeclampsia with seizures)
- Organ damage
- Hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count (HELLP syndrome)
Every year, preeclampsia is responsible for over 70,000 maternal deaths and 500,000 infant deaths worldwide.
Within this particular study, researchers sought to understand the connection between COVID-19 and pregnancy-related complications. To do this, researchers performed a meta-analysis of 28 prior medical studies. These studies included data from 790,954 pregnant individuals. Of these, 15,524 had also been diagnosed with COVID-19. Findings included:
- Pregnant individuals with COVID-19 were 62% more likely to develop preeclampsia than their healthy counterparts. Although this was most common in highly symptomatic patients, even those with asymptomatic COVID-19 had a higher risk.
- COVID-19 was also associated with an increased risk of eclampsia and HELLP syndrome.