Pregnant women with high blood pressure might be advised to monitor their health a bit more closely. High blood pressure is a red flag during those childbearing months, making the mother especially vulnerable to hypertension that can add to complications during pregnancy. Then there's preeclampsia, a condition that involves not only high blood pressure but also possible organ damage.
Preeclampsia is a type of blood pressure disorder similar to hypertension, which can surface after five months of pregnancy. If hypertension is serious enough, it can damage such organs as the brain, liver, and kidneys. And left untreated, it could lead to seizures, heart attacks, strokes and even death to both the baby and mother. More than one out of every 20 mothers can get the condition, which is responsible for 60 percent of maternal fatalities according to statistics from developing nations.
More specifically, researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that severe cases of preeclampsia affect the performance of the heart just before labor. A mother with a case of preeclampsia experiencing a contraction may find that her heart can't relax enough to endure the next contraction. The heart winds up overworking itself and becomes less efficient at pumping blood through the rest of the mother's circulatory system.
The problem is identifying cases of preeclampsia. It used to be diagnosed if a pregnant woman with high blood pressure had protein in her urine. Now, it's since been discovered that preeclampsia can not only take place if the protein is absent from such a sample, it can also occur without warning.
One measure Johns Hopkins researchers undertook was using imaging technology to examine the hearts of 63 pregnant women having severe preeclampsia as well as 36 healthy counterparts. When they reached the 33rd week of pregnancy, physicians had them undergo an echocardiography exam.
What they noticed were that various chambers in the heart changed the shape of the heart more dramatically in preeclampsia subjects than those in the normal group. As well, not only was the heart size larger in the preeclampsia group, the walls of the organ were considerably thicker, proving that it was beating harder than it should at that stage of pregnancy.
The results showed that not only did the imaging demonstrate how much preeclampsia could potentially damage the heart, it also gave them a visual platform on how to assess the health of a woman with such a condition. And while there's no indication that an echocardiography should be mandatory for pregnant women with high blood pressure, the results did provide researchers with a vivid picture of the risks that were previously not so well known, which could help expectant moms in the future.