Health websites riddled with false info about preeclampsia, ProPublica finds

Google searches for preeclampsia surged after Beyoncé discussed her experience with the condition during a Vogue interview published Aug. 5. After the term's popularity spiked online, ProPublica reviewed preeclampsia materials from some of the nation's leading consumer health websites and found many pages contained incomplete, imprecise or misleading information.

Here are four things to know:

1. Preeclampsia is one of the most common causes of maternal health complications and death in the nation, affecting about 200,000 women a year. Preeclampsia is also responsible for 15 percent of premature births in the U.S.

2. ProPublica found many health sites contain incorrect information about the condition. For example, Harvard Health Publishing's website said preeclampsia only occurs during pregnancy. MedlinePlus, a site published by the National Institutes of Health, and Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic's website both said the only cure for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby.

"There's no question that delivery is often indicated, and sometimes quite urgently, to save the life of mother and/or baby," Eleni Tsigas, CEO of the Preeclampsia Foundation, told ProPublica. However, "no provider should tell a patient that ‘the cure for preeclampsia is delivery,'" she said.

3. Many health sites also failed to adequately explain, or even mention, postpartum preeclampsia. Symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia, such as headaches and swelling, often parallel the typical discomforts of birth, so women may not realize they need to seek medical care. Therefore, accurate and thorough information about the condition on online sites is crucial, according to Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and co-director of the Columbia University Preterm Birth Prevention Center in New York City.

4. ProPublica contacted MedlinePlus, Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health Publishing about the information on their sites, and all have since updated their language on preeclampsia to more accurately describe its causes, definitions and treatments.

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