A nurse’s view: Blood test for severe preeclampsia will save lives


There is amazing news for the world of obstetrics and for all pregnant women. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a blood test that will predict, with 96% accuracy, if a pregnant woman will develop severe preeclampsia within 2 weeks. Severe preeclampsia is a critical obstetrical condition that can have serious outcomes for a mother and baby. It can lead to eclampsia, an obstetrical emergency, which often results in death of the mother and/or baby.

Based on research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the incidence of new‐onset hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (gestational hypertension and preeclampsia/eclampsia) have nearly doubled in the United States from 2007 to 2019. And they continue to climb.

According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, 5%-8% of all pregnancies in the United States will result in preeclampsia. Black women are at a 60% higher risk than white women, and according to various sources, other risk groups include those who became pregnant via in vitro fertilization, mothers of multiples (twins and triplets), women with gestational diabetes, women over age 35, women with chronic hypertension, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, sickle cell disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, migraines, antiphospholipid syndrome, previous pregnancy with preeclampsia, family history, and scleroderma.

Screening and treatment

Preeclampsia is a multiorgan disease of pregnancy, and can be mild, but may quickly progress to severe, which can be life-threatening for mother and baby. It was previously referred to as toxemia or the high blood pressure disease of pregnancy. It primarily involves the cardiovascular, neurologic and renal systems, and the liver. Patients typically present with elevated blood pressures, but other symptoms may include headache, swelling of hands and feet, blurry/double vision or seeing spots, nausea/vomiting, and epigastric pain. It is diagnosed with elevated blood pressures, blood work, and protein in the urine.

Early screening for preeclampsia is done in the first trimester. Presently, a combination of prenatal blood work, blood pressure monitoring, and recognition of high-risk groups is used to determine a treatment plan going forward. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women that fall into this group for potentially developing preeclampsia take daily aspirin as a preventative measure.

In its milder form, a pregnant woman can be observed as an outpatient – monitored with antepartum testing, lab work, and patient education to report significant symptoms as listed above. Teaching patients about fetal kick counts to monitor their baby’s movements is equally important. Women with mild preeclampsia usually can safely deliver at term, being induced between 37-39 weeks’ gestation.

On the other hand, if mild preeclampsia progresses to severe preeclampsia, delivery may be preterm for the safety of mother and baby. Severe preeclampsia can lead to maternal organ damage, seizures, and even death of mother and/or baby.

About 20% of women with severe preeclampsia will develop HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelets) syndrome, a life-threatening disease that often warrants immediate delivery. According to the National Library of Medicine, the mortality rate of women with HELLP syndrome is up to 24% and the perinatal death rate is up as high as 37%. These serious conditions can cause ineffective maternal clotting, liver rupture, placental abruption, and postpartum hemorrhage. It is most prevalent in the third trimester but can occur within 48 hours of delivery.

The only cure for preeclampsia in any form is delivery.

Patients with severe preeclampsia are hospitalized until delivery – sometimes a few days to a couple of weeks. Mother and baby are closely watched for further progression, including signs of organ damage in the mother and changes to the well-being of the baby. If the mother’s health is severely compromised, then the baby will be compromised as well. A preterm delivery may be necessary.


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