More women giving birth in hospitals have high blood pressure, CDC says

Black women and women over the age of 45 are at particularly high risk, according to a new report. Hypertension can lead to serious complications.

More women giving birth in hospitals have high blood pressure, and it’s more common among women in some minority groups, federal researchers say.

Roughly 1 in 7 women giving birth in hospitals have hypertension disorders, or high blood pressure, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says 16% of hospital deliveries involve women with hypertension in 2019, up from 13% in 2017.

High blood pressure is common but can lead to serious health complications in pregnant women, including heart attack and stroke, the CDC says. In some cases, women have high blood pressure prior to pregnancy but some women develop hypertension during and after pregnancy.

About one third of women who died during a hospital delivery had a hypertensive disorder, the CDC says.

The CDC report was released Thursday afternoon and comes as the federal government is focusing more on maternal mortality. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to recognize “birthing friendly” hospitals, with hopes of driving improvements in maternal care throughout the health system.

Black women were the most likely to have hypertension. More than 1 in 5 Black women delivering in hospitals have hypertension, while 1 in 6 American Indian or Alaska Native women giving birth in hospitals have high blood pressure, the CDC says.

The CDC notes the disparities among racial groups and says access to quality healthcare is a contributing factor, along with other issues such as obesity. The CDC also says bias in treating women of minority groups plays a role.

“Racial bias in the U.S. healthcare system can affect HDP (hypertensive disorders in pregnancy) care from screening and diagnosis to treatment,” the agency said in a news release summarizing the report.

Wanda Barfield, director of CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said addressing hypertension is critical to reducing racial disparities in maternal healthcare.

“As healthcare professionals, we must recognize the factors that contribute to racial inequities and work individually and collectively to reduce these rates,” Barfield said in a statement.

Hypertension is most commonly seen in women over the age of 45 who are giving birth, according to the CDC. Almost 1 in 3 women (31%) over 45 in hospital deliveries were diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Higher rates of hypertension were also found in rural areas, areas with higher concentrations of people with lower incomes, and in the South, the CDC says.

Janet Wright, director of CDC’s Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, said there are many strategies that can reduce hypertension and lower the risk of complications and death in pregnant women.

“A great example is home-monitoring of blood pressure during and following pregnancy,” Wright said in the news release.

If healthcare providers identify and properly treat women with hypertension, serious complications can typically be avoided, the CDC says.

Doctors and patients should be aware of urgent warning signs in pregnancy, including headaches that persist or get worse; chest pain; difficulty breathing; dizziness and fainting; fever of 100.4 degrees or higher; and extreme swelling of the hands or face.

Pregnant women with disabilities are also at higher risk for health complications, according to a study done by researchers at the National Institutes of Health. Women with disabilities are more likely to die in childbirth or suffer cardiovascular events, and the study suggests doctors need to recognize pregnant women with disabilities carry greater risks of complications.