During the second or third trimester of pregnancy, a woman may experience problems caused by excessive protein in the urine, high blood pressure and edema (swelling). This potentially life-threatening condition is known as preeclampsia, or toxemia of pregnancy. The most dangerous problems from preeclampsia stem from the risks associated with high blood pressure, particularly if it is sustained for long periods of time during any portion of a pregnancy. It may cause interference with the placenta’s ability to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the fetus, resulting in low birth weight in the baby. The risks of high blood pressure to the mother include the possibility of serious kidney and liver problems and decreased blood platelets. The reduction of blood platelets, which aid in blood clotting, may cause uncontrollable bleeding during delivery.

In some cases, preeclampsia can lead to a more severe condition known as eclampsia. This, too, includes protein in the urine and high blood pressure, but it also results in seizures, which can be life-threatening to both mother and baby because of the potential for severe oxygen deprivation. The high blood pressure from eclampsia also creates a risk for abruptio placentae, or the separation of the placentae from the uterus. This may result in severe bleeding and even the loss of life for the fetus and mother.

The Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialists at the University of Alabama Birmingham Women & Infants Center are available on-site 24 hours a day to manage problems associated with high-risk pregnancies. Our physicians are experts at managing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, Rh sensitization, multiple births, premature delivery risk, and other potential complications. 

MFM specialists at the UAB have access to treatments that often are not yet available elsewhere, which can reduce the chance of a recurrent preterm birth by one-third to one-half. We are one of the nation’s most advanced MFM programs, as evidenced by being one of only 14 centers participating in the national Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network for high-risk pregnancy research. To support our research we developed Alabama’s first OB/GYN Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, which implemented the first comprehensive first-trimester screening program and the first integrated first- and second-trimester screening program for fetal abnormalities.

Patients at UAB have access to the most up-to-date care, including first-trimester diagnosis, genetic testing and counseling, and 4D-ultrasound and fetal imaging. UAB’s team includes only board-certified MFM specialists as well as specialists with genetics certification. Our program also includes a personal labor nurse and three anesthesia specialists.

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