This month, the “Take Charge of Your Health Today” page focuses on preeclampsia and heart health. Erricka Hager, health advocate, and Esther L. Bush, president and CEO, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, spoke about this topic.

EH: Good afternoon, Ms. Bush. I’m excited to have this conversation with you about an issue that is negatively affecting the communities we serve. This month’s topic means a lot to me because I developed preeclampsia during my first pregnancy. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication with symptoms like high blood pressure, swollen hands and feet and protein in urine. If untreated, it can lead to brain seizures and a life-threatening condition called eclampsia.

EB: Hello, Erricka. I’m glad we’re covering this topic. Research shows that African American women are more likely to experience preeclampsia during pregnancy versus their white counterparts. The rate of preeclampsia and eclampsia for African American women is 61 percent higher than it is for white women and 50 percent higher than it is for women overall, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

EH: That’s important to mention because the disparity gap between African American and white women experiencing preeclampsia during pregnancy in the United States continues to grow. Researchers are trying to understand why African American women are at a higher risk of developing and then dying from preeclampsia. Historically, researchers believed that socioeconomic factors, like poverty or limited education, were the causes of the disparity. However, research has shown that these factors aren’t the only causes. Many of us know the pregnancy complications that Beyoncé and Serena Williams faced during their respective pregnancies.

EB: Yes, you are correct. I’m glad to hear that celebrities are bringing attention to the increased pregnancy risks for African American women. Preeclampsia is such an important topic that significantly affects African American women despite their incomes or levels of education. More research is needed to understand why African American women are at an increased risk of experiencing preeclampsia. In the meantime, African American women should continue to be screened for high-risk pregnancy complications and managed as if they are going to develop preeclampsia. Unfortunately, most African American women don’t even know what preeclampsia is or know where to get information about it. That’s why it’s crucial for us to continue to have these conversations about research and health to continue to educate and empower the African American community.

EH: I agree! I was one of those women. Before I developed preeclampsia, I had neither heard of it nor did I know what symptoms to look for during pregnancy to discuss with my doctor. When I was contacted by Dr. Catov’s research team, I was excited to participate in her study because it meant that someone was listening. Dr. Catov recognizes that preeclampsia complications could lead to future cardiovascular disease or heart issues and wants to know why. It’s important for our readers to understand that volunteering for research studies is a vital way for researchers to understand why African American women, specifically, are at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia.

EB: Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and experience, Erricka. We’ve provided some great information and ways that readers can take charge of their health today. I look forward to chatting with you next month when we discuss poverty and asthma outcomes.