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Feb 27, 2018

High Blood Pressure Common in Women with History of Preeclampsia

Heart disease risk is elevated in many women who experienced severe preeclampsia, finds Dutch study.

High blood pressure is common but easily overlooked in many women with severe preeclampsia, based on a recent study that assessed the health of 200 Dutch women in the year after giving birth.

Recently published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, this study looked at the association between preeclampsia and high blood pressure. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure at least five months into pregnancy. It affects 2–8% of all pregnancies globally and can pose an immediate threat to the mother and baby’s health.

Although this condition often resolves after delivery, studies have linked preeclampsia to increased heart risks in women. And it’s likely that high blood pressure may be to blame.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from a study conducted at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands from 2011–2017. It included 200 women with severe preeclampsia, all of whom had their blood pressure measured roughly one year after delivery. Blood pressure was assessed at office visits and with home monitors to provide a complete picture of their health.

In this study, severe preeclampsia was defined as having a blood pressure greater than 160/110 mmHg at least 20 weeks into pregnancy.

Based on thorough blood pressure monitoring, researchers found that 42% of women had high blood pressure one year after delivery. However, office visits would have only caught 24% of women with hypertension. That’s because nearly 18% of women had masked hypertension, which occurs when blood pressure is normal during office visits but increases at home. Another 10% of women had the opposite problem, where blood pressure was high during visits but normal at home—a condition referred to as “white coat hypertension.”

Researchers also note that 46% of all women had an irregular dipping pattern, where blood pressure does not drop during nighttime. This irregular pattern is associated with increased heart risks, even in patients with otherwise normal blood pressure readings.

Based on findings, authors encourage at-home blood pressure monitoring for women with a history of preeclampsia. As this study shows, office visits do not always capture an accurate picture of a patient’s blood pressure. It’s important to identify all patients with concerning blood pressure levels—especially those with a history of preeclampsia who face increased risk for heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is preeclampsia?
  • Preeclampsia is a serious condition that occurs when women develop high blood pressure during the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Preeclampsia affects anywhere from 2-8% of pregnancies and if left untreated, can lead to serious complications for the mother and child.
  • What are possible complications associated with preeclampsia?
  • When preeclampsia is severe, it can affect organs and cause serious problems in the mother and baby. However, symptoms of preeclampsia usually disappear within three months of giving birth. Women with a history of preeclampsia should also work closely with their doctor to address any risk factors they may have for heart disease, as preeclampsia increases cardiovascular risk later in life.

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