Expanded high blood pressure screenings recommended during pregnancy

Pregnant women should be screened for hypertension-related disorders throughout pregnancy, a task force responding to one of the leading causes of maternal mortality recommended Tuesday.

The expanded recommendations, compiled by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, suggest screenings for gestational hypertension, preeclampsia and eclampsia and chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia. 

The task force recommends those who are pregnant seek screenings throughout their pregnancy — particularly those who don’t have a known “diagnosis of a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy or chronic hypertension.” 

The recommendations, published in the medical journal JAMA, defined chronic hypertension as present prior to pregnancy or within the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy.

Preeclampsia most often occurred after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Gestational hypertension is new-onset hypertension after the 20th week of a pregnancy in a person who previously had normal blood pressure levels. Eclampsia can cause seizures in people who are not diagnosed with epilepsy, the task force reported. 

A positive screening for new-onset hypertension would come back with elevated blood pressure measuring 140 millimeters of mercury.

More than half of maternal deaths that can be traced back to hypertensive disorders during pregnancy happen in the six weeks following delivery, the report found. Fetuses can experience effects while in utero and during delivery, and pregnant people can experience complications including an early labor. 

The report found that African American people experience higher rates of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States — and they have a greater risk of developing hypertensive disorders while pregnant. 

The task force comprises independent medical experts who make recommendations to guide doctors’ decisions. 

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