Sadly this isn't Kardashian's first struggle with health problems during pregnancy. During her first pregnancy with now 2-year-old North, she suffered from preeclampsia, a high-risk pregnancy condition characterized by high blood pressure that occurs in 5 to 8 percent of all births in the U.S. As Kardashian noted on her official website, preeclampsia caused her to deliver North prematurely at 34 weeks and was also accompanied by placenta accreta, where her doctor had to painfully scrape out her placenta by hand. Now Kardashian fears the same health complications in her second pregnancy, as her risk of preeclampsia and placenta accreta have increased. In a worst-case scenario, it's possible she might need an emergency hysterectomy directly after birth.
Kardashian may not be everyone's favorite reality star, but she's turning her potentially fatal pregnancy struggles into a public service announcement that every expectant mom needs to read. As Kardashian explains on her website, preeclampsia can be serious and often sudden, normally affecting pregnant women after 20 weeks. Preeclampsia is detected with a high blood pressure reading (at least 140/90) and excessive protein in the urine.
Since preeclampsia comes on suddenly and without warning, understanding the symptoms is a must. As Dr. Arun Jeyabalan, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Magee-Womens Hospital, tells LiveScience, preeclampsia can become systemic, which means the condition can affect the entire body, potentially causing headaches, seizures, fluid on the lungs, liver failure, kidney damage and neurological disturbances. Preeclampsia can also affect a mother's blood flow to compromise a baby's nourishment and oxygen.
Symptoms of preeclampsia commonly flare up anytime but most typically present in the third trimester and up to six weeks after birth. They include visual changes, a severe headache, swelling in the ankles and feet, difficulty breathing, sudden nausea or vomiting, pain in the upper right abdomen (or liver area) and seizures, in severe cases. If one or more of these symptoms leads to a preeclampsia diagnosis, a mother's blood pressure and urine will be monitored closely, along with the health of her baby. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, delivery may be induced if mom and baby's health decline.
Placenta accreta is another, separate high-risk pregnancy condition that occurs when the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall. As we saw in Kardashian's case, placenta accreta can occur alongside preeclampsia, normally detected by irregular bleeding in the third trimester. Dr. Robert Silver, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah and placenta accreta researcher, explains in Stanford Medicine's special report on the topic that the placenta is a "kind of remarkable" organ that can grow like cancer and invade the uterus. This growth is a good thing, since it is how the placenta implants when an egg is fertilized. But if the placenta overgrows into muscle, chunks can be left behind after delivery that increase the risk of postpartum infection and hemorrhage. In more extreme cases, like Kardashian's, a doctor may perform a hysterectomy to control this dangerous bleeding after birth.
While it helps to understand the warning signs of both pregnancy complications, most expectant moms still want to know why. Unfortunately doctors haven't pinpointed a known cause of preeclampsia or placenta accreta yet. Preeclampsia risk can increase with a history of high blood pressure or preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy, being over the age of 40, when carrying multiples and related to obesity, kidney disease, lupus, prediabetes or chronic hypertension before pregnancy. Placenta accreta risk can increase with a second pregnancy, being over the age of 35 and from smoking cigarettes.
The March of Dimes recommends trying to have a baby vaginally instead of via C-section to reduce the risk of placental conditions in future pregnancies. And for most women with preeclampsia, a delivery that puts an end to pregnancy is considered the only "cure."
Kardashian said she's scared about her delivery, and she has every right to be. Both the complications she's facing are serious and life-threatening — and the last thing a mother needs when bringing a new child into the family. No matter how you feel about the Kardashians, we can all agree that Kim deserves some extra support (and a little less Internet hate) during these last few weeks of a tough pregnancy.
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