TACOMA -- One of the biggest precursors to heart disease is high blood pressure.
Monique Shield had her first brush with cardiovascular disease 19 years ago, while she was pregnant with her first son.
Monique developed a dangerous complication characterized by high blood pressure called preeclampsia, a condition formerly referred to as toxemia.
We talked with Virginia Mason Cardiologist Dr. Susie Woo about Monique’s condition.
“It can be life-threatening for both the mother and the baby, usually the only way to kind of treat it is to deliver the baby so it’s um, it can be kind of an emergency situation," she said. "The preeclampsia is affecting the organs in the mother so it’s almost like a hypertensive crisis for patients that are not pregnant, where the blood pressure is so high that it can affect the organs, and preeclampsia can be the kidneys and liver.”
Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a woman whose blood pressure had been normal. The condition only impacts around 200,000 women in the U.S. each year.
Dr. Woo says what is particularly scary with preeclampsia is that there may be no symptoms.
“They may or may not have swelling, but that’s a very non-specific sign, a lot of pregnant people who don’t have preeclampsia have swelling, so that’s hard. And a lot of times, there might not be any signs, it might just be something that we detect like hypertension, it can be a silent thing, where you only find out that you have it based on checking your blood pressure, so it’s important that you check with your doctor to make sure that your blood pressure is normal.”
Hypertension and heart disease run in Monique’s family. Her father died of congenital heart disease just one week before his 60th birthday. Her mother is a heart survivor, having had four heart surgeries and most recently receiving a pacemaker. So Monique knew she needed to take action.
She is committed to reducing her risk of developing heart disease by incorporating 30 or more minutes of exercise each day, making healthy eating choices and consistently taking her blood pressure medication.
For more heart health resources: American Heart Association