Penn Medicine has found that nearly 10 percent of pregnant women develop a dangerous high blood pressure condition known as preeclampsia during or a few days after pregnancy, even if they have no history of high blood pressure.
This condition is difficult to predict and increases the patient’s risk of heart disease and stroke, which is why Penn Medicine developed the Heart Safe Motherhood project to better care for new mothers.
Dr. Adi Hirshberg, co-founder of Heart Safe Motherhood and assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania, cautions expectant mothers to be on the lookout for symptoms of hypertension:
- Dull or severe headaches that don’t go away
- Swelling in your face, around your eyes, or in your hands
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in vision, such as flashing lights, auras, light sensitivity, or blurry vision
- Shortness of breath
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women with hypertension receive blood pressure monitoring both 72 hours and seven to 10 days after discharge.
Heart Safe Motherhood allows patients to begin monitoring their blood pressure from home the day after they’re discharged. They receive text reminders and feedback over a 10-day period, while providers receive alerts about abnormal or high readings and act accordingly.
“More than 90 percent of patients enrolled in the program monitored their blood pressure one time,” Hirshberg said. “Eighty percent monitored it two times. The number of women being readmitted to the hospital has been reduced.”
The Heart Safe Motherhood project showed major improvement over standard care and found that patients are able to receive medical treatment sooner and more conveniently than they could before.
“Women need to be encouraged to not dismiss their symptoms but to take them seriously and contact your health provider when experiencing them,” Hirshberg said.