Close-up of pregnant woman sitting in sofa with her hands at belly

Women stand a greater risk of kidney disease — and that risk increases with pregnancy complications.

Women who become pregnant naturally concentrate on taking care of their health to ensure a healthy baby. But do they also know the effect pregnancy can have on their renal health?

Pregnancy has two major effects on renal health. First, women stand a greater chance of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD) because they make up a larger percentage of individuals affected by autoimmune disorders that damage the kidneys, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic scleroderma. Not only do those illnesses harm the blood-filtering organs, but therapies to treat those disorders have an adverse effect on renal health, as well.

Secondly, a recent study found that women who experience serious complications during their pregnancy are more likely to develop CKD later in life. Taken together, these factors point to the necessity of regular monitoring of a woman’s renal health before and during pregnancy.

Pregnancy & Kidney Disease

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, concluded the risk of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) was elevated in pregnant women suffering from preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, and preterm deliveries compared to women without those conditions. The chances of ESRD varied between nearly fivefold and more than twofold.

Expectant women with preeclampsia — a condition that causes high blood pressure and organ damage, specifically to the kidneys and liver — were five times more likely to suffer kidney failure and two times more likely to suffer CKD and kidney-related hospitalizations. Preeclampsia has also been linked to premature births. Nausea, headaches, vision problems, and abdominal pain are all symptoms of preeclampsia that shouldn’t be ignored given the seriousness of the potential complications.

Protein in urine is another sign of preeclampsia and impaired kidney function, and it’s why pregnant women are given frequent urine tests. When kidneys are impaired, the organs cannot filter protein from blood and the substance ends up in urine.

To reach their findings, researchers analyzed 23 studies that encompassed 5.8 million pregnant women. Although they concluded complications during pregnancy put women at risk of CKD and ESRD, researchers did not determine whether this was because certain women were predisposed to kidney disease prior to pregnancy, or carrying a baby somehow affected their organs and increased the likelihood of renal disease. Whichever the reason, researchers emphasized the need for long-term follow-up of pregnant women who have experienced complications as well as providing preventative measures to possibly lower the risk of kidney disease in that same group.

Women with pre-existing kidney disease must also be strictly monitored before and during pregnancy by a team of specialists that includes a nephrologist and a maternal-fetal medicine doctor. In particular, women with kidney disease may need to boost their iron levels if they are diagnosed with iron-deficient anemia before conceiving.

Having kidney disease prior to becoming pregnant raises the risk of preeclampsia, slow fetal growth, and preterm delivery. In addition, some women who have moderate to severe kidney disease may progress to ESRD following pregnancy.

Pregnancy does not increase the risk of kidney stones, but if a woman contracts a urinary tract infection (UTI) while pregnant it should be treated immediately with IV antibiotics. A UTI that infects the kidney can cause breathing problems for the mother and a premature birth.

We’re the Kidney Specialists

Women suffering from kidney disease or experiencing complications during pregnancy that could affect their kidneys can deliver a healthy baby with the help of a kidney specialist — and the physicians at the Southeastern Massachusetts Dialysis Group provide renal care with compassion and expertise. Contact us today for an appointment.