People Magazine’s June 15 report of reality star Kim Kardashian’s baby girl’s birth began a tirade of media coverage on how and why she delivered early. Preeclampsia was the purported cause of the three- (or was it five-?)-week early induced delivery. As expected, the media stories and the public comments on the topic alternatively have made us laugh and seethe at the misinformation around this condition. But like fictional character Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey, these bursts of public attention provide a wonderful opportunity to accurately educate the public about a common, but life-threatening disorder of pregnancy, one where the facts could save a life.
Here are 5 myths we've heard and the correct answers you can give to your less informed friends!
- "Kim Kardashian was induced because of her swelling which means she had preeclampsia." Truth: Edema or swelling is often seen in women with preeclampsia, but that alone would not define her pregnancy complication. Preeclampsia is diagnosed when the mother has high blood pressure (140/90 or higher) and protein in her urine. There has been no confirmation that Kim suffered from preeclampsia. Blood pressure and lab results would be required.
- "Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can lead to preeclampsia." Gosh, those fat, swollen ankles must have caused this multi-system disorder, eh? Truth: while a high body mass index can be a risk factor for preeclampsia, gaining more than about 5 pounds in one week during pregnancy is actually an indication that the mother may have preeclampsia, not that it caused it. (That’s like saying having a fever causes infection.)
- "Wearing tight shoes and clothes caused KK’s swollen feet." Truth: A lot of pregnant women get swollen feet, regardless of the kind of shoes they wear. Preeclampsia causes leaky blood vessels, leading to more fluid accumulating throughout the body, not just the feet. Swelling in the face, around the eyes or lips and in the hands is far more medically concerning.
- "In worst case scenarios, the fetus must be aborted to save the mother’s life." Truth: preeclampsia treatment may sometimes include delivering the baby early, but delivery is not a synonym for abortion. Actually, delivering the placenta (the organ that supplies nutrition from the mother to the baby) is what begins the healing process in mothers with preeclampsia. Modern medical innovations have allowed doctors to save countless premature lives. (Check out more about preeclampsia's impact on the baby.)
- "She demanded the doctors take the baby early because she couldn’t stand how she looked." Truth: There are strong communication and policy campaigns underway to let the baby decide when it’s time to be born and that means going to at least 39 weeks unless there’s a medical reason not to. Doctors and midwives know that and are being increasingly penalized for resorting to social (read: stupid) pressures to deliver early. Preeclampsia is a medical reason and there are excellent, evidence-based reasons to deliver those babies early. If Kim Kardashian had preeclampsia (a point which her healthcare team would not divulge due to HIPAA regulations), that’s reason enough to deliver her baby early.
Accurate information about preeclampsia may save a life... thank you for turning celebrity experiences into real-life learning opportunities.