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News / Chronic Hypertension Has Soared Among Pregnant Women

Chronic Hypertension Has Soared Among Pregnant Women

Published Jun 21, 2024

Far more women are experiencing a life-threatening condition during pregnancy but aren’t being treated for it, according to a study published this week.

This problem is largely avoidable, and experts have urged providers to take action. One official called it a “missed opportunity” to protect heart health.

The study found the rate of chronic high blood pressure in pregnant women doubled over a 14-year period. At the same time, the use of medications that can treat the condition, also called hypertension, remained flat, even as maternal deaths rose alarmingly in recent years.

“Untreated high blood pressure can have really serious consequences for both someone who’s pregnant and the baby in the short term, as well as over their whole life,” Stephanie Leonard, an assistant professor in maternal-fetal medicine and obstetrics at Stanford School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, told USA TODAY.

As chronic hypertension in pregnant women doubled from 2007 to 2021, only about 3 in 5 received medications to treat it, according to the study in an American Heart Association journal.

Chronic high blood pressure during pregnancy is when a person’s readings are 140/90 millimeters of mercury or higher before pregnancy or within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to the National Institutes of Health, which supported the study with grant funding.

High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause organ damage in mothers and increase the risk of preterm birth or low birth weight babies. Care providers consider hypertension a threat to both mother and baby because preterm delivery poses serious risks for children as they develop. It can also be fatal to mothers who don’t get treatment, and it’s a problem federal health officials say is largely avoidable. New federal data suggests the number of women who died during childbirth has dropped significantly after alarming increases early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women of color, particularly Black and Indigenous people, are at greater risk of dying during or after childbirth. Black women die at nearly three times the rate of white women, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We need to better understand gaps in treatment for chronic hypertension, especially in these high-risk groups,” said Candice A. Price, a program director at NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, who researches women’s health, in a statement. “If we’re not detecting and treating chronic hypertension early, that’s a missed opportunity for protecting heart health during and after pregnancy.”

Read more from USA TODAY.