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A little-known, dangerous condition

May 12, 2011
By KURT HAUGLIE - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - During her first pregnancy in 2006, Angela Poulos went in one day for a routine examination at week 35 and learned she had high blood pressure and protein in her urine.

Although both conditions lessened somewhat, the next week she went in for another examination, seeing Dr. Dana Dwyer because her regular doctor wasn't available, and got some disturbing news.

"She said I need to be induced," Poulos said.

Article Photos

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Angela Poulos and her 22-month-old daughter, Eila, color in their Houghton home recently. Poulos had a condition called preeclampsia with both Eila and her 4-and-a-half-year-old sister, Maren. Both girls are doing well now.

The need to birth her baby early was caused by a condition called preeclampsia, which is defined by high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine. Left untreated, the condition can have serious health effects, including death, for both mother and baby.

Because of those facts, Poulos said Dwyer was emphatic she give birth immediately.

"She said there's nothing to be gained and everything to be lost by waiting," Poulos said.

Poulos said the labor induction for the birth of her daughter, Maren, was done at Portage Health in Hancock without complications.

"It went fine," she said.

Because she's a nurse practitioner, Poulos said she knew something about preeclampsia, but she decided to get better informed.

"I started reading more about it," she said. "It was pretty scary."

Poulos said when she and her husband, Steve Webber, decided to have another baby, she knew there was a risk of developing preeclampsia again.

"I knew for my next pregnancy I'd have to be watched," she said. "We were alert for it the second time around."

However, Poulos said she decided to go ahead with a second pregnancy.

"There's no guarantees," she said. "It was sort of like a gamble."

According to the Mayo Clinic website, the exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, but theories include insufficient blood flow to the uterus, damage to blood vessels, a problem with the immune system or poor diet.

Her condition was fine for her second pregnancy until week 29, Poulos said, when signs of preeclampsia started showing up again.

"For 29 weeks, everything was great," she said.

Because the problems developed again, Poulos said she saw a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Marquette General Health System.

Poulos said because of her experience with her first pregnancy, it was decided she should be induced at 37 weeks no matter what. However, her condition became so severe it started affecting her kidneys and she had neurological problems.

"The headache was terrible," she said. "I started seeing big black spots and vomiting. It happened within hours."

At 3 a.m., Poulos said her husband took her to Portage Health, and after examining her, the mood in the emergency room became tense.

"When everybody's quiet, you know it's not a good sign," she said.

It was decided not to wait any longer in the pregnancy, and on June 17, 2009, Poulos said her daughter, Eila, was delivered by C-section at MGHS because Portage Health isn't equipped to do the procedure.

Poulos said Eila was in such poor condition at the time of her birth, she needed several blood transfusions. She developed an infection, the cause of which was the point in her umbilical cord where she was being given the transfusions.

"We thought she was going to die," she said.

However, the blood helped.

"She started to turn a corner," she said.

Although Eila is a little small for her age, Poulos said she doesn't have any health issues.

"She doesn't have any deficits we can tell, so far," she said.

Dwyer, who is practicing in Colorado now, said during her first pregnancy, Poulos was watched closely because of the symptoms she presented.

"She had mild preeclampsia at that time," she said.

Because of her age, Dwyer said Poulos had an added danger.

"With women over the age of 35, the risk is increased," she said.

Although there is no cure for preeclampsia, Dwyer said baby aspirin is often given as a treatment, but Poulos couldn't take it every day during her second pregnancy.

Her high blood pressure made Poulos' situation problematic, Dwyer said.

"Angela was certainly a higher-risk patient," she said.

Although the condition may not be well known by the general public, Dwyer said preeclampsia is fairly common.

"The overall incidence for preeclampsia is 5 to 8 percent," she said.

For the first pregnancy, Dwyer said the incidence of developing the mild form of the condition is 5 to 7 percent, and the incidence for developing a severe case is 25 to 65 percent.

Even after giving birth, Dwyer said patients with preeclampsia can still have problems with high blood pressure.

"It can take up to 12 weeks for the blood pressure to return to normal," she said.

Some women develop convulsions with preeclampsia, also, Dwyer said.

"The exact cause of the seizures is not known," she said.

Dwyer said there is research being done on preeclampsia, and more is planned.

"There's lots of studies on the horizon," she said.

Poulos said although she's decided not to get pregnant again, not all women with preeclampsia make that decision.

Although she and Eila got excellent care at both Portage Health and MGHS, Poulos said not all women have the same positive experience she had, which is why she thinks more study needs to be done on women's health issues.

"Women and children's issues are notoriously underfunded," she said.

May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month, and Poulos said she's doing what she can to make people aware of the condition and increase funding for it. She's going to take part Sunday in a fundraising event called the Promise Walk in Minnesota.

"You promise not to be unchanged by this," she said. "That's been the case with me."

Taking part in the Promise Walk is something her situation with Eila prompted her to do.

"We came so close to not being here," she said.



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