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4 Important Reasons for Childbearing-Age Women to Manage Hypertension

April 28, 2023

Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in the United States? It's also the leading cause of death during and after pregnancy, especially for Black women. But there's good news: prevention and treatment can help. In fact, 80% of the time, you can lower your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity by making simple lifestyle adjustments.

If you're pregnant or of childbearing age, it's important to get screened for hypertension. Here are four reasons why:

1. Hypertension during pregnancy can lead to complications.

High blood pressure before or during pregnancy can lead to serious health problems known as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP), including chronic hypertension, gestational hypertension, and preeclampsia. Chronic hypertension refers to high blood pressure that some women may develop before pregnancy or if their blood pressure is elevated before 20 weeks. Gestational hypertension and preeclampsia could happen after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The main difference is that preeclampsia usually includes an increased protein in the urine, and if left untreated, may cause strokes, seizures, and damage to your organs.

Expectant mothers with preeclampsia are four times as likely to develop peripartum or postpartum cardiomyopathy. The mother's heart becomes enlarged and weakened in late pregnancy, which can harm both the mother and baby. These conditions can also lead to premature birth, cesarean delivery, low birth weight, or stillbirth, affecting the baby's growth.

2. About 45% of pregnancies are unplanned.

Preparing for a healthy pregnancy takes time and effort, but don't let it overwhelm you. Start by taking small steps and setting achievable goals. The American Heart Association's Life's Essential 8 checklist is a great place to start. If you're trying to conceive, talk to your doctor about a blood pressure prevention plan and how to track it at home. Stay on top of your cholesterol, sleep, weight, and blood sugar level for a healthy pregnancy.3. Certain women face higher risks.

Women with gestational diabetes, chronic hypertension, or a history of preeclampsia have a higher risk of pregnancy complications. You may also be at risk if you're carrying more than one baby, have a high body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy, or have a family history of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. Additionally, you may have an elevated risk if you're older than 35 or identify as a Black, American Indian, or Alaska Native woman. There's no reason to worry, but knowing your family's health history and talking to your clinician about it is important.

4. Preeclampsia Doubles Risk of Heart Disease in Women

Women who experience hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease and four times more likely to develop hypertension later in life. This highlights the importance of seeing pregnancy as a window to future heart health. These facts highlight the importance of seeing pregnancy as a window to future heart health. Research shows the importance of lifestyle changes before, during, and after pregnancy. It is also important for women to follow up with their primary care provider or OB-GYN postpartum to ensure they’re tested regularly for hypertension beyond the initial postpartum follow-up visit, typically 4 to 6 weeks after delivery.

The takeaway

Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes better nutrition and a greater focus on your mental health, staying away from tobacco products and minimizing or avoiding alcohol, starting prenatal care early, and talking to your clinician about health conditions you have now or had in the past, and you can prepare for an optimal pregnancy. Make sure to get screened for hypertension and track your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Knowing the warning signs and being proactive about your health will prepare you for a healthy pregnancy. 

At Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group, we're here to help you reduce your risk for pregnancy complications. Schedule your next appointment with our board-certified primary care and women's health physicians at a location near you. 

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