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In a world that seems to witness the debut of new, high-tech medical devices almost daily, the ubiquitous blood pressure cuff can seem downright antiquated. But that doesn’t make it any less useful when it comes to helping to save lives of pregnant women.
That’s why a team of physicians and nurses at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital are working to put scores of those life-saving devices into the hands of expecting moms. Specifically, the providers at IU Health Ball Memorial Family Medicine Residency Center have received a $6,200 gift from IU Health Foundation to provide tools – blood pressure cuffs and scales – that will help to reduce maternal mortality by allowing women to detect and manage pregnancy-related hypertensive disorders at home.
“We want women to feel empowered to be part of their healthcare,” says Melanie A. Schreiner, MD.
Certainly, this is no small matter. In a nation with a maternal mortality rate that is double that of most other high-income nations, Indiana is the third worst among the 50 states. According to a report by America’s Health Rankings and the Indiana Department of Health, Indiana’s maternal mortality rate is 41.4 per 100,000 pregnancies, compared to the national figure of 17.4 per 100,000 pregnancies.
Dr. Schreiner – who serves as Associate Director of the Family Medicine Residency Center – is quick to acknowledge that maternal mortality is a complex problem, and hypertension disorders are just one of many causes. But it is a cause that factors into 16% of maternal deaths, and one that is easily treated.
“This won’t address the whole problem of maternal mortality,” Dr. Schreiner says, “but we’re carving out one piece of the pie.”
Hypertensive disorders are dangerous for anyone, as increased blood pressure puts a strain on the circulatory and cardiovascular system. Hypertension during pregnancy – and its more-severe sibling, preeclampsia – can be even more dangerous for both moms and babies, as the body is already under strain and the baby is particularly vulnerable. As a result, hypertensive disorders and preeclampsia often result in early deliveries, sometimes under great urgency and stress, which simply increases the risk.
Unfortunately, gestational hypertension often goes undetected because its initial symptoms can seem a lot like the symptoms of pregnancy. “Any expectant mom is often tired.” Dr. Schreiner says, “And there are many days when she just doesn’t feel great. Because a pregnant woman expects this, she usually won’t think that she could be showing signs of a serious problem.”
The goal of the Family Medicine Residency Center program is to get moms to regularly monitor their blood pressure at home. By distributing blood pressure cuffs and showing moms how to use them, the team hopes they can head off hypertension issues before they become serious. In addition, the team is giving the moms scales, so they can manage their pregnancy weight gain – as being overweight or gaining excess weight in pregnancy often contributes to hypertension – and logbooks so they can track their blood pressure and share ongoing results with their doctors. The financial support from IU Health Foundation allows Dr. Schreiner’s team to increase the chances that people will participate by providing these items for free.
“Blood pressure cuffs aren’t necessarily cheap, and many women can’t afford them,” Dr. Schreiner says. “We want to help moms monitor before it becomes a real problem.”
They’ve already seen results. Dr. Schreiner notes that 11% of women who received the blood pressure cuffs have called her office when they had checked their blood pressure and discovered that it was too high. Without the cuffs, she said, few, if any, of those women would have felt the need to talk to a physician. These women were brought in for further assessment and diagnosed and/or treated far earlier in the pregnancy than had they not been monitored.
Early recognition and treatment of hypertensive disorders in pregnancy is paramount to reducing maternal mortality in our states and providing women the tools to do so is fundamental to this. Pregnant women can be empowered to better monitor and improve their health during their pregnancy. And improving the health of a mom will improve the health of our babies.
If you would like to donate to IU Health Foundation to support maternal initiatives at the IU Health Ball Memorial Family Medicine Residency Center, please contact Brad Edmondson, IU Health Foundation philanthropy director.