Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy affect nearly 16% of women who give birth in U.S. hospitals and appear to be increasing, according to an April 29 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Older patients and Black women are substantially more likely to experience hypertension in pregnancy, the analysis found.
“Addressing hypertensive disorders in pregnancy is a key strategy in reducing inequities in pregnancy-related mortality,” study coauthor Wanda Barfield, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, said in a statement.
Age, obesity, diabetes
The overall prevalence of hypertensive disorders in pregnancy increased from 13.3% in 2017 to 15.9% in 2019, the researchers reported in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The uptick in hypertension coincides with trends toward older maternal age and higher rates of obesity and diabetes, which may explain the increase, they said.
For the study, Dr. Barfield and her colleagues analyzed nationally representative data from the National Inpatient Sample. They identified patients with a diagnosis of chronic hypertension, pregnancy-associated hypertension, or unspecified maternal hypertension during their hospitalization.
Among women aged 45-55 years, the prevalence of hypertension was 31%. Among those aged 35-44 years, it was 18%.
Hypertension diagnoses were more common in women who were Black (20.9%) or American Indian or Alaska Native (16.4%), than in other groups.
Of patients who died during delivery hospitalization, 31.6% had a hypertensive disorder.
The study shows a marked increase in hypertensive disorders over a relatively short time, according to Jane van Dis, MD, of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester (N.Y.), who was not involved in the research. The phenomenon is consistent with her own experience, she said.
“When I am admitting patients, I’m oftentimes surprised when someone does not have a hypertensive disorder because I feel like the majority of patients these days do,” Dr. van Dis told this news organization.
Dr. Van Dis speculated that factors related to the environment, including air pollution and endocrine disrupters, could contribute to elevated rates of hypertensive disorders.
Natalie Bello, MD, MPH, director of hypertension research at Smidt Heart Institute, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, said rates of hypertension today could be even higher than in the study.
The CDC report relied on pre-COVID data, and the pandemic “increased disparities in health outcomes,” Dr. Bello said in an interview. “I’m worried that in actuality these numbers are an underestimation of the current state of hypertension in pregnancy.”
“The racial and geographic disparities that we continue to see in the field are disheartening but should be a call to action to redouble our work to improve maternal outcomes,” Dr. Bello told this news organization. “The good news is that a lot of morbidity related to hypertension can be avoided with timely diagnosis and treatment of blood pressure. However, we need to act to provide all pregnant persons with optimal care.”
Janet Wright, MD, director of CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, said blood pressure home monitoring is a “great example” of a strategy clinicians can use to identify and manage patients with hypertension.
But one approach – self-monitoring blood pressure from home during pregnancy – did not significantly improve the health of pregnant women, according to new results from randomized trials in the United Kingdom.
Trial results published in JAMA show that blood pressure home-monitoring coupled to telemonitoring, as compared with usual care, did not significantly improve blood pressure control among patients with chronic or gestational hypertension.
A second trial published in JAMA that included patients at risk for preeclampsia found that self-monitoring with telemonitoring did not lead to significantly earlier diagnoses of hypertension.
“Individuals at risk for a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy, or with gestational or chronic hypertension, cannot be treated with a single approach,” Malavika Prabhu, MD, with Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, and coauthors write in an editorial accompanying the JAMA studies. Although the data suggest that self-monitoring of blood pressure is practical and tolerated, “More research is needed to determine optimal, high-value, equitable approaches to averting adverse perinatal outcomes associated with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy,” they write.
The CDC study authors and Dr. van Dis have disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Dr. Bello is funded by the National Institutes of Health to study blood pressure monitoring in pregnancy. The JAMA editorial authors disclosed university, government, and corporate grants and work with publishing companies.
A version of this article first appeared on.