Tragic Loss Highlights Prenatal Health Concerns for Black Women

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Olympic athlete Tori Bowie competing in a track race

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The track and field world was stunned to learn of the sudden death of three-time Olympic medalist, Tori Bowie, who passed away due to complications suffered during childbirth on May 2.

An autopsy ruled that her cause of death was the result of complications including respiratory distress and an issue known as eclampsia, which is a rare but serious issue that occurs in the second half of pregnancy.

The tragic news of Bowie’s death not only placed a spotlight upon the subject of eclampsia, but also upon the maternal death rate among Black women in the United States, which is statistically twice as high as that of white women.

Obstetrician-gynecologist, Yangshu Linda Pan, MD, spoke with Premier Health Now about eclampsia and the crucial need for access as well as continuity of prenatal care for women of color to sustain a healthy pregnancy.

The Priority of Prenatal Care

As Dr. Pan explains, eclampsia is one condition on a spectrum of blood pressure concerns during pregnancy. This spectrum covers a variety of blood pressure-related complications that can arise during a woman’s pregnancy. Providers must closely monitor the complications that can range from mild to critical depending upon the progression of symptoms.

“The spectrum starts on the normal side where a woman’s blood pressure is fine,” says Dr. Pan. “The next level includes gestational hypertension as blood pressure increases. If testing also reveals the presence of protein in a patient’s urine, then they have preeclampsia and are at risk of developing eclampsia along with its serious symptoms.”

Those symptoms include increased high blood pressure, headaches, blurry vision, and seizures that can even lead to death.  Dr. Pan stresses that the key to lowering maternal mortality rates is to come under the care of a qualified medical professional who can monitor your health and the health of your baby.

“As health care providers, the tragic loss of Torie Bowie, is also a sobering reminder that Black women are dying at a higher rate than any other group,” says Dr. Pan. “We must do all that we can to ensure they have access to care, and that we take the time to hear their concerns and prioritize their needs throughout the duration of their pregnancy.” 

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