The Lingering Effects of Preeclampsia
One afternoon in November 2021, Bianca Labrador arrived home from a busy morning out and noticed her heart begin to race. As a mom of three young kids, Bianca had a lot going on; she wasn’t going to let a rapid heartbeat affect her day. However, when Bianca lay in bed that night, she couldn’t fall asleep. She knew something felt wrong.
Bianca was able to take her heart rate and blood pressure using a health kit at home that included a blood pressure monitor. She was shocked when she saw that her blood pressure was extremely elevated, and her resting heart rate was 110 beats per minute (bpm). At that point, Bianca woke up her husband and told him that she needed to go to the emergency room to make sure that nothing was wrong. On the way to the hospital, Bianca’s vision started to get blurry.
"We were on our way to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, and I started to feel really strange. I realized that I couldn’t make it to UPMC Magee, so we ended up going to the nearest hospital, UPMC St. Margaret, instead."
When she arrived at the hospital, the team started analyzing her heart function. Her blood pressure read 186 and her heart rate was more than 160 bpm.
“The nurse left to bring in a doctor, and immediately I knew something was wrong,” says Bianca.
The team treated Bianca with a beta blocker, a medication used to control abnormal heart rhythms. They ruled out major issues, such as heart attack or heart failure. While she was allowed to return home, the team at UPMC St. Margaret recommended that she follow up with her primary care provider immediately.
“I left Thursday night and the nurse walked me out. She told me that I needed to follow up with my primary care provider and find a cardiologist,” says Bianca.
The Path to the UPMC Magee-Womens Heart Program
Bianca called her primary care provider the next morning. While on the phone, they asked Bianca to record her blood pressure at that moment. Again, her blood pressure was elevated, so they recommended that Bianca go straight to the UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital emergency room.
“When I got to UPMC Magee, I started checking in. My vision got spotty, and I started to pass out. I was by myself because my husband was taking our kids to his parents’ house and I was really scared,” says Bianca.
The team at UPMC Magee ran diagnostic tests to examine Bianca’s condition. Although they couldn’t identify a cause, the doctor made an appointment for Bianca to see a cardiologist.
“I called the UPMC Magee-Womens Heart Program to set up an appointment with Dr. Berlacher,” explains Bianca.
Prior to her appointment with Dr. Berlacher, Bianca attended an echocardiogram at UPMC Magee, a test that uses ultrasound to create images of your heart.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking. I didn’t know what to expect. You don’t know what’s going on with your heart or what they might find. My mind went through all of these scenarios,” says Bianca.
The results came back normal on Bianca’s echocardiogram. Although everything appeared normal, Bianca still had questions about her heart care.
The Solution: The Right Diagnosis and Lifestyle Change
In February, Bianca went to her appointment with Dr. Berlacher. She immediately felt reassured by the attentiveness and care that she received at her appointment.
“That appointment was so informative. Dr. Berlacher and her fellow asked me about my diet and health history. She told me that they really care about women’s heart health, which was so reassuring,” says Bianca.
After examining Bianca’s medical history, Dr. Berlacher mentioned something that hadn’t crossed Bianca’s mind at all: seven years ago, when she was nearing the end of her pregnancy with her first child, Bianca was diagnosed with preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy. Bianca knew there were possible complications, but she had no idea it would affect her heart seven years later.
“Dr. Berlacher told me that women with preeclampsia are at a four times greater risk for heart failure and two times greater risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Nobody had ever told me that,” says Bianca. “Immediately, I asked Dr. Berlacher, ‘What can I do to help? What do you want me to do?’”
Dr. Berlacher recommended moderate exercise and suggested that Bianca search through the American Heart Association’s website for exercise plans. She also recommended that Bianca reduce her sodium intake and connected her with a nutritionist who suggested grocery stores that provide healthy, low-sodium foods.
“The moment I left that office, I had a plan. They told me exactly what to do to make sure that I had control of the situation,” explains Bianca. “I pulled out the calorie counting app on my phone, and I looked at the sodium tracker. When I got home, I explained everything to my husband, and I exercised that day.”
The Results: A New Outlook on Health
Bianca was determined to share her story with other women. She posted her experience to Facebook hoping to raise awareness about the implications for women who had preeclampsia. Bianca was shocked at the response.
“I posted in a mom’s Facebook group explaining what I just learned. So many women have had preeclampsia and haven’t been made aware of the risks. I had friends responding and telling me that they were going to immediately speak with their primary care provider about heart care,” says Bianca.
After her appointment with Dr. Berlacher, Bianca has shifted her perspective on health. This new approach has led to a healthier lifestyle and newfound motivation.
“I spent so much of my life working out to look a certain way. But now, I’m trying to train my brain to exercise for a healthy body,” explains Bianca. “Instead of being healthy for vanity purposes, it’s important to be healthy for your insides and the functionality of your heart. I cannot recommend the Heart and Vascular Institute enough. They truly care about women’s heart health.”
Bianca’s journey led her to a heart healthy lifestyle, something she encourages all women to prioritize. She continues to connect with Dr. Berlacher and the team at UPMC Magee-Womens Heart Program to monitor and prioritize her health. Bianca is passionate about sharing her experience and educating women everywhere about their heart health. Her new mentality has already had a positive impact on her 7- and 5-year old daughters, who know their mom works out “so her heart can be healthy.”
“It’s important to remember that you can still live your life and have fun, but you have to understand where your parameters are. Changing your lifestyle is all about finding what works for you and making tiny adjustments to prioritize your health. I encourage all women to make the change because it’s worth it,” says Bianca.
To schedule an appointment with the UPMC Magee-Womens Heart Program, call 1-855-876-2484.
Bianca's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.