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Project helps pregnant women avoid fatal illness

This news post is over 6 years old
 

Pioneering research aims to tackle fatal diseases among pregnant mothers

Pregnant mums with cardiovascular disease could avoid serious conditions in the future, thanks to science being funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) at its Centre of Research Excellence in Glasgow.

Cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, in women of child-bearing age is a common yet serious health concern.

Other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as obesity and advanced maternal age, are also increasing in this population.

It is well known that women with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors have a higher incidence of delivering babies who are small for their age or born too early and of developing gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia or eclamptic fits, which can be fatal.

Heather Small, who is in her final year of a four-year BHF-funded PHD programme at the BHF Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre, is investigating how the heart and vessels adapt to the huge changes during pregnancy in a woman with increased cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure.

“We know that during pregnancy in a healthy woman there’s a 50% increase in the amount of blood that gets pumped out of the heart and that can go up to 100% if you’re carrying twins.

“The heart has to cope with all of this extra blood during pregnancy. The vessels need to expand and get bigger to accommodate this massive blood flow in order to supply the placenta and fetus with the oxygen and nutrients they require. When the vessels don’t expand enough this can lead to high blood pressure and other complications.”

High blood pressure – the biggest risk factor in heart disease - before and during pregnancy affects 3% of pregnant women but this is increasing.

Living with high blood pressure

Project helps pregnant women avoid fatal illness

Louise Dodd (33) from Cambuslang suffered from high blood pressure during both her pregnancies but she wouldnever have known, were it not for having her blood pressure checked, as shedidn’t feel unwell.

With daughter Jordyn her high blood pressure was sudden and severe and Louise was warned she was at higher risk from suffering pre-eclampsia. Jordyn was born nine weeks early by emergency Louise Dodd (33) from Cambuslang suffered from high blood pressure during both her pregnancies but she would never have known, were it not for having her blood pressure checked, as she didn’t feel unwell.

With daughter Jordyn her high blood pressure was sudden and severe and Louise was warned she was at higher risk from suffering pre-eclampsia. Jordyn was born nine weeks early by emergency cesarean section and spent six weeks in hospital.

With son Logan, now 16 months old, Louise experienced high blood pressure from around 17 weeks and took medication from around 34 weeks. Logan was born two weeks early by planned cesarean section. Neither Logan, nor teenager Jordyn, suffered any ongoing health problems.

Louise recalled: “During both pregnancies I was often asked if I had a headache or any other symptoms but I felt absolutely fine.

“You’d never have known I had high blood pressure. I just felt fortunate that I had a team of medical people around me making sure everything was stable.

“My experiences just show how important it is to attend your midwife appointments so that you can keep an eye on your blood pressure, as this could happen to any mum.”

Heather hopes to receive further funding from the BHF to be able to embark on clinical trials later this year. These will involve pregnant women consenting to donate blood or placental tissue so she can further examine the benefits of anti-inflammatory drugs.

section and spent six weeks in hospital.

With son Logan, now 16 months old, Louise experienced high blood pressure from around 17 weeks and took medication from around 34 weeks. Logan was born two weeks early by planned caesarean section. Neither Logan, nor teenager Jordyn, suffered any ongoing health problems.

Louise recalled: “During both pregnancies I was often asked if I had a headache or any other symptoms but I felt absolutely fine.

“You’d never have known I had highblood pressure. I just felt fortunate that I had a team of medical peoplearound me making sure everything was stable.

“My experiences just show howimportant it is to attend your midwife appointments so that you can keep an eyeon your blood pressure, as this could happen to any mum.”

Heather hopes to receive further funding from the BHF to be able to embark on clinical trials later this year.

These will involve pregnant women consenting to donate blood or placental tissue so she can further examine the benefits of anti-inflammatory drugs.

Heather’s research has shown that in women with cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, the placenta, and therefore the fetus, can become under-nourished. She’s now focusing on how anti-inflammatory medication – for example, the kind that is already used to treat rheumatoid arthritis – could help the blood vessels adapt so that the cardiovascular system can cope with the pregnancy and keep the baby, and mum, in optimum health.

Heather adds: “For most pregnant women they won’t know they have high blood pressure until they fall ill or have their first midwife appointment. At that point, they already have a 25% chance of developing severe pre-eclampsia and a 28 per cent chance of delivering their baby prematurely.

“This whole area of science is really under-researched, which is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about it. You could say it’s my baby.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the BHF, which is funding the research, said: “Research has shown that more and more pregnant women have some form of cardiovascular disease. Pregnancy can put tremendous strain on the body of a woman who is healthy let alone if she has heart disease.

“This promising study is helping us better understand the pregnancy complications brought on by cardiovascular disease. With future funding, this research will hopefully lead to new treatments that ensure more mums have a healthy and safe pregnancy.

“Research like this is only possible because of the public’s generosity. Without their support we wouldn’t be able fund the best scientists to find new ways to treat, prevent and cure cardiovascular disease.”

 

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