Northwestern University Study Finds an Alarming Rise in Blood Pressure Disorders Among Pregnant Women

A new study lead by researchers at Northwestern Univerity in Illinois finds that pregnancy complications relating to high blood pressure among individuals between the ages of 15 and 44 are increasing dramatically.

Researchers examined data on 6 million births between 2007 and 2019. They found that the rate of high blood pressure-related disorders among pregnant individuals more than doubled over the 12-year period, from 38.4 per 1,000 live births in 2007 to 77.8 in 2019, according to the study. Furthermore, they found that the rate of increase accelerated in more recent years, growing 9.1 percent a year on average from 2014 to 2019 compared to 4.1 percent a year from 2007 to 2014.

The average age of women giving birth increased from 27.4 in 2007 to 29.1 years in 2019. But despite much attention often focusing on mothers of advanced maternal age (35 years old and up), the relative increase in problematic pregnancies was higher in younger women, the scientists said.

“The increase in pregnancy complications is alarming because these adverse pregnancy outcomes — including hypertension in pregnancy, preterm birth, and a low birth-weight infant — not only adversely influence both mom and child in the short-term but for years to come,” said corresponding study author Sadiya Khan, an assistant professor of cardiology and epidemiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“The reason for these increases still needs to be studied further and is likely multifactorial, but important contributors may include worsening pre-pregnancy cardiac health, poor diet, suboptimal perinatal care, and potentially an increase in rates of detection,” said lead author Priya Freaney, an advanced cardiovascular fellow at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “This further emphasizes the need for us to develop targeted interventions to predict, prevent, and manage hypertensive disorders of pregnancy in order to reverse these trends and improve women’s heart health.”

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