Julie Atkinson was diagnosed with preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication often characterized by high blood pressure, during labour with her first child.
All of a sudden, the swelling she experienced during her pregnancy made sense.
“I had not thought about my blood pressure because I was so young, only 27, with my first pregnancy,” says Julie, a mother of four from St. Thomas, Ontario, who adds she wishes she knew that preeclampsia can happen at any age.
Julie experienced preeclampsia with all four of her pregnancies and was surprised to hear the condition affects roughly seven per cent of pregnancies in Canada. The condition can impair liver and kidney function, cause blood clotting problems, seizures and, in some severe and untreated cases, even maternal and infant death. Recently, celebrities like Beyonce and Kim Kardashian have been public about their experiences with the condition.
Dr. Lisa Dubrofsky, nephrologist at Sunnybrook, is working with a team of clinicians to better understand the best way to reach women to raise awareness around preeclampsia and the health impact it can have later on in a woman’s life.
“Many women with preeclampsia think ‘that’s it, my risk has ended’ after they have their baby,” says Dr. Dubrofsky, noting that the condition increases risk of long-term cardiovascular conditions, as well as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disorders. “Easy-to-access postpartum education is critical to keep women healthy.”
The Sunnybrook team have launched the Her-HEART study to better understand the best approach to boosting awareness of the condition’s long-lasting impact. The study will assess how to best educate women, like Julie, to reduce the long-term risk of heart disease.
“We’re really keen to know whether women are open to an online web-based education session or a personalized telemedicine consult,” says Dr. Dubrofsky, who adds the study will only take about two hours of time in total.
Julie says she will participate in the Her-HEART study and encourages other women who have had preeclampsia to join.
“Taking an active interest in preeclampsia, and the lifestyle changes I can make, has made a huge difference in my subsequent pregnancies and my ongoing health.”