High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy


Pittsburgh, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire)—Pregnancy puts strain on a woman’s cardiovascular system causing the heart and lungs to work harder. In addition, as many as one in 12 women have elevated blood pressure during their pregnancy. Now, new research shows high blood pressure during pregnancy may lead to additional cardiovascular risks, even a decade later.

Four-year-old Leo is a bundle of energy. Hard to imagine him like this delivered six weeks early, after mom, Julianna, had blood pressure that rocketed up to a dangerous 180 over 110.

“Thank goodness my little guy is so healthy and showing no signs of impact,” Julianna Zito told Ivanhoe.

Julianna’s blood pressure was also high during her first pregnancy with daughter Izabella, 12 years ago, and it’s still high. Medication helps but hasn’t brought it completely under control. In a newly published study, cardiologist Malamo Countouris and her colleagues have found potentially dangerous changes in hypertensive womens’ hearts.

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“This isn’t something that they would necessarily feel, but we’re able to see it on ultrasound,” Malamo Countouris, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, shared.

The researchers used the scans to look for thickening in the walls of a woman’s left ventricle, a sign the heart’s not pumping blood normally.

Dr. Countouris explained, “So even just in the ten to 15 years after delivery, we see that these women are at increased risk for heart attack, for stroke, for heart failure.”

In fact, 79 percent of the women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy, and again eight to ten years later, showed the high-risk heart changes. Scientists say identifying these women at high risk, like Julianna, may open a window of opportunity to intervene early.

“Because I wonder, could we have done anything differently,” Julianna Zito questioned.

Dr. Countouris says if doctors know women are at high risk, they can suggest even simple changes in lifestyle, diet, and better management of other risk factors, like diabetes, to prevent changes to the heart. Dr. Countouris also said additional studies are needed to examine the relationship between complicated pregnancies and long-term effects on the heart.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4950

PREECLAMPSIA/HEART DISEASE BACKGROUND: Preeclampsia is a complication due to pregnancy. It causes the patient to have high blood pressure and can also cause damage to the liver and kidneys. After 20 weeks of pregnancy patients could start to show symptoms of preeclampsia. If untreated, preeclampsia can lead to serious and possibly fatal complications for that patient and baby.  Several factors can cause preeclampsia, including: insufficient blood flow to the uterus, damage to blood vessels, immune deficiencies, and certain genes. The risk factors for preeclampsia are: history of preeclampsia, chronic hypertension, first pregnancy, new paternity, age, race, obesity, multiple pregnancy such as twins or triplets, interval between pregnancies, history of certain conditions, and in vitro fertilization.

(Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/preeclampsia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355745)

PREECLAMPSIA/HEART DISEASE DIAGNOSING: Preeclampsia can develop without any symptoms which is why it is important to regularly check your blood pressure if you are pregnant. High blood pressure can develop slowly or come on rapidly. Blood pressure that is over 140/90 or greater is abnormal and the patient should call their health care provider. Other symptoms or signs of preeclampsia are excess protein in your urine (proteinuria) or additional signs of kidney problems, severe headaches, changes in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision or light sensitivity, upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right side, nausea or vomiting, decreased urine output, decreased levels of platelets in your blood (thrombocytopenia), impaired liver function, shortness of breath caused by fluid in your lungs.

(Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/preeclampsia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355745)

PREECLAMPSIA/HEART DISEASE NEW RESEARCH: Pregnant women with preeclampsia are more likely to later develop heart failure than those who do not have blood pressure-related pregnancy complications. A new study on 500,000 Norwegian women found that women with preeclampsia are twice as likely to develop heart failure. Those who develop preeclampsia in more than one pregnancy are four times more likely to have heart failure. The women who were studied had their first birth between 1980 and 2004 and were followed through 2009. High blood pressure is common among pregnant women and can lead to the need to induce labor, pre-term delivery, stroke, seizures, or coma for the mother. This new information is important because pregnant women need to be aware of the signs that they may be developing preeclampsia and talk with their healthcare providers immediately. Monitoring their blood pressure and being aware of quickly developing swelling in the lower extremities of the body are two signs that a patient may have preeclampsia.

(Source: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/08/24/preeclampsia-may-double-a-womans-chances-for-later-heart-failure)





If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Malamo Countouris, MD, Cardiologist

Read the entire Q&A