What women need to know about preeclampsia

A pregnant woman with a female doctor in a clinical office setting.

When Eleni Tsigas was expecting her first child, she had no known risk factors for preeclampsia — a serious disease in pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure. She thought her headaches and swelling were normal pregnancy aches.  

By the time a soaring blood pressure sent Tsigas to the hospital, she had classic preeclampsia symptoms. Yet, it took eight hours to transfer her to a high-risk hospital. It was too late, and her daughter didn’t survive. 

Two decades later, Tsigas honors her daughter’s legacy by serving as CEO of the Preeclampsia Foundation, which educates patients, trains providers and researches causes and cures. As the preeclampsia rate has increased 25 percent in the U.S., public and private organizations like CVS Health have joined the fight. 

Today, preeclampsia affects up to 1 in 12 pregnancies. It’s a top cause of maternal death and infant harm, and creates lifelong risks for heart disease and hypertension, says Joanne Armstrong, M.D., head of Women's Health for CVS Health. “The prevention of preeclampsia is a wellness strategy for women for their entire lifetime,” she says.

Photo of Joanne Armstrong, M.D., head of Women's Health for CVS Health.
“Preeclampsia is a top cause of maternal death and infant harm,” says Joanne Armstrong, M.D., head of Women's Health for CVS Health.

Preeclampsia risk factors include prior history, pregnancy with twins or triplets, hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease and autoimmune disorders. 

More U.S. women are also developing preeclampsia during the postpartum period, with 75 percent of related maternal deaths occurring after delivery. Because of health disparities, Black women are also three times more likely than white women to die from preeclampsia. 

Aetna, is using data analytics to tackle disparities. “By identifying and engaging patients at moments that matter during their health care journeys — such as before preeclampsia may arise for a high-risk mom-to-be — we can dramatically improve health care and even save lives,” says Daniel Knecht, M.D., vice president of Clinical Product for CVS Health.

High-risk members receive a prenatal care kit with educational materials, an appointment reminder card, and low-dose aspirin that can reduce the risk of developing preeclampsia. During the pandemic, high-risk women also receive digital blood pressure cuffs to support prenatal care visits from home. 

Tsigas says her story is but one of many, which is why she continues her search for answers. “This started off as a way to bring meaning to my daughter’s life and her death,” she says. “But it soon became apparent I was no longer doing this just for my own healing. I was doing this work because it needed to be done.” 

To learn more about the work CVS Health is doing to prevent preeclampsia, visit our page on "Creating safer pregnancies through preeclampsia prevention."