If you're like I was when I was pregnant, I was reading everything about pregnancy that I could get my hands on. It was great to be informed, but at times I thought I'd drive myself crazy trying to self-diagnose what I was feeling after reading all of the various ways pregnancies can be complicated (for the record I developed gestational diabetes but otherwise had a healthy pregnancy, and a very healthy son).
One of the big baddies is preeclampsia, a condition usually occurring after 20 weeks of pregnancy and characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, liver disease and blood-clotting abnormalities. Nearly seven million pregnant women suffer from it a year (including stars like Angelina Jolie, Faith Hill and Jennifer Lopez and rumor has it Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears had it too), and it's the leading cause of death in pregnant women.
When a pregnant woman develops preeclampsia in the second trimester, her infant often must be delivered prematurely to avoid severe maternal complications, like stroke (similar to the eclampsia death on Downtown Abbey).
But there's a silver lining to this Debbie Downer of a disease. To prevent the dangerous disorder, The U.S. Preventative Service Task Force is recommending 81 milligrams of low-dose aspirin daily—after 12 weeks of gestation—for pregnant women at high risk. Women are considered high risk if they've had preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy, are expecting multiples, or if they have a history of diabetes, hypertension or kidney disease.
This recommendation follows other medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Heart Association , which have also advised that high-risk women use low-dose aspirin.
However, the task force also recommends that expectant women with multiple moderate-risk factors may also benefit from low-dose aspirin. These risks include obesity, a family history of preeclampsia, women older than 35, and African-American women.
Research shows that "low-dose aspirin every day lowers the risk of preeclampsia by 24 percent," says Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, the co-vice chair of USPSTF. "And it lowers the risk of pre-term birth by 14 percent."
As always, consult your doctor before taking any medicine—including over-the-counter drugs—while pregnant.
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Image of pregnant woman courtesy of Shutterstock.