Roughly two to eight percent of pregnant women around the world experience preeclampsia — a disorder where a pregnant person experiences high blood pressure, usually beginning after 20 weeks, that carries risks for other organs in the body. According to a new study from Rutgers University published in the Journal of Women’s Health, people who experienced high blood pressure during their first pregnancy are at a significantly greater risk of experiencing heart problems (including heart attacks or cardiovascular death). And since February is Heart Health Month , it certainly doesn’t hurt to find out a bit more.
Analyzing cardiovascular disease in 6,360 women who were pregnant for the first time and diagnosed with preeclampsia in New Jersey hospitals from 1999 to 2013 and compared them to pregnant women without preeclampsia over a 15 year period, researchers found that the preeclampsia patients were four times as likely to experience a heart attack or cardiovascular death and twice as likely to die from other causes.
“Women who were diagnosed with preeclampsia tended also to have a history of chronic high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and kidney disease and other medical conditions,” the study’s author Mary Downes Gastrich, an associate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Cardiovascular Institute of New Jersey, said in a statement.
While researchers say that doctors have yet to find a single cause of this connection, they believe it may be related placental blood vessels being insufficiently formed. Symptoms of preeclampsia include high and elevated blood pressure and excess protein in the urine. And, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you can also monitor for swelling in hands and face, persistent headaches, sudden weight gain, difficulty breathing, changes in eyesight (including seeing spots), upper abdominal or shoulder pain, nausea and vomiting in the second half of your pregnancy. swelling of the hands and face or a headache that doesn’t go away.
Gastrich says that she believes all women should be screened for preeclampsia throughout their pregnancy and that they be treated and monitored within five years after giving birth. “Medication such as low-dose aspirin also may be effective, according to one study, in bringing down blood pressure as early as the second trimester,” Gastrich said.
Another study recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) in February, encourages a broader and more comprehensive approach to educating women about postpartum hypertension — regardless of their history of high blood pressure — to give them the tools to better understand their health.
“Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation. As clinicians, we’re always looking for ways to tailor interventions so we can reduce deaths,” the study’s lead author Conisha Holloman, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine fellow with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, said in a statement. “At our hospital, we noticed a lot of women were being readmitted after giving birth with high blood pressure, even when they didn’t have a history of high blood pressure.
Looking at a pool of 164 women in Houston from September 2016 to July 2019 who gave birth at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and were readmitted with high blood pressure, researchers found that nearly 65 percent of the women were readmitted within seven days and 39 percent of them were not diagnosed with high blood pressure before they were discharged.
“While clearly more research needs to be done on what causes high blood pressure after childbirth, what our study reveals is a strong need to educate all women [and] not just those who may be at a higher risk — about the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure before they are discharged,” Holloman said.