Preeclampsia: Black women at high risk for serious pregnancy complication

By Monyette Wells

Contributing Writer


First published July 6, 2005

Preeclampsia is a complex disorder that can be fatal to an expectant mother and her child if it goes untreated. Also known as toxemia, preeclampsia is a condition that causes a pregnant woman’s blood vessels to constrict, which leads to fluid leaking into the tissues. This fluid can get into the bloodstream and causes a pregnant woman to contract high blood pressure.

This disorder usually happens in only about five percent to eight percent of pregnant women of all races who are in their third trimester (between 37 to 40 weeks) of their first pregnancy. How preeclampsia is caused is unknown, but the disorder takes about 76,000 lives per year around the world, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation website.

Some symptoms of preeclampsia include elevated blood pressure (140/90 and higher), persistent headaches, intense pain in the upper right abdomen, nausea and/or vomiting, blurred vision and/or spots before your eyes.

A few years ago, I contracted preeclampsia at the 37th week of my pregnancy, However, I did not have any symptoms — none that would have made me take notice, anyway. At the time, I was always on the go, I would hardly sleep, and I did not have much of an appetite; these were all signs of hypertension.

When I went to the doctor’s office for my follow-up appointment, I was told that I had protein in my urine, my blood pressure levels were at 290/198, and that my baby’s breathing was in distress. Then, I was told that my only solution and cure for this disorder was to give birth to my baby immediately.

I had never heard of preeclampsia before contracting it, and I asked my physician, Dr. Ray Johnson, how could this have happened. He stated that “It is really no telling, considering that it is found [at a] much higher rate in Black women than it is in any other race. Given the different cases, it could be genetic, and/or if your body is lacking some type of supplements (such as iron, calcium), or if you are getting too much of a particular supplement (such as protein).”

After my baby and I recovered from preeclampsia, I decided to do a little research on the condition. With the help of my aunt, Audrey Smith, R.N., I figured out that my preeclampsia was probably caused by my missing one particular supplement: I needed calcium, due to my being lactose intolerant and therefore unable to eat dairy products. Many Black people are lactose intolerant; therefore, Black women are at higher risk for preeclampsia. In general, taking nutritional supplements during and even outside of pregnancies could prevent preeclampsia, according to Smith.

Due to my experience with preeclampsia, I was pushed to learn more about the disorder and also about other health conditions, including ones that are not pregnancy-related. I hope I can perhaps help or influence other women to learn more about their life history, diet or genetics so that they can possibly avoid conditions like preeclampsia.


For more information about preeclampsia, visit the Preeclampsia Foundation website at www.preeclamp