Study shows increased rates of pregnant millennials and Gen Z diagnosed with high blood pressure

Central Texas women not exempt from risks
Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 10:27 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A recent study published by the American Medical Association shows millennials and Gen Z women who are pregnant have double the chance of being diagnosed with high blood pressure compared to generations before.

Baylor Scott & White Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist Dr. Paula Smith said she has treated many pregnant women in Central Texas who have high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of death for pregnant women. Texas has the eighth highest maternal mortality rate in the nation.

“The things we think about for a mom are certainly the effects of having high blood pressure, which could be stroke, it could be having a seizure, it could be having a bleed in the brain, kidney damage, liver damage,” Smith said.

High blood pressure does not only affect the mother but also the development and even life the child.

“For a fetus, we think about impairment of growth,” she said. “We can get very small babies with moms that have high blood pressure. We can also have babies that could pass away while the mom is still pregnant because of the high blood pressure.”

While about half of Americans live with high blood pressure every day, Smith said having high blood pressure during pregnancy is critical.

“Because we have mothers and babies that are dying because of unrecognized or untreated high blood pressure during pregnancy,” she said. “Moms can have brain bleeds. Moms can have seizures. Moms can have strokes, impairment in their liver, their kidneys, and these can have long-lasting effects afterwards. We lose babies because of untreated, undiagnosed high blood pressure.”

She said she has noticed the increase of high blood pressure diagnoses among the millennial and Gen Z pregnant women in Central Texas.

She speculates the reason for this increase among these generations could be related to many factors.

“I think we’re having a lot more women that are getting pregnant a lot older over the age of 35,” she said. “They’re waiting later and pregnant in their life to get pregnant.”

Thirty-five is considered advanced maternal age. Smith said it is a risk factor for getting high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Another risk factor is getting pregnant with a body mass index over 30.

“A lot of women are entering pregnancy at a heavier weight than they were in the past,” she said. “With obesity comes all those other chronic issues that we think of, like Type 2 diabetes, having high blood pressure when they’re not pregnant.”

She also said she notices more women are getting pregnant through infertility treatments like IVF.

“With IVF, you get multiple gestations, twins, triplets, and that increases your risk,” Smith said.

One of the highest risks for having high blood pressure during pregnancy is having a history of high blood pressure, especially during past pregnancies.

However, Smith said she does think the trend is related to the factor that doctors are diagnosing it earlier and more often than before.

“We’re paying more attention to it, and that all stems from looking at the nation’s maternal morbidity and mortality rates and finding that we’re not doing very well at it,” Smith said.

The study as well as Smith said minority pregnant women are even more likely to have high blood pressure during pregnancy, increasing maternal mortality rates for minority women.

There are ways to prevent it or reduce chances of having high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Smith said doctors typically recommend pregnant women with high blood pressure to take low doses of aspirin. Doctors also monitor the woman and fetus, especially vital organs that could be affected by the high blood pressure diagnosis.

To prevent it, she said women planning on having a child should also plan ahead for their own health.

“I encourage people to come preconception to talk about their health and what they could do to optimize their health, because that’s key is optimizing your health before you get pregnant,” she said.

Smith said this could include losing weight and exercising regularly before and during pregnancy.

She said it’s also important to recognize any risks you may have before getting pregnant so that doctors can have a head start in diagnosing and monitoring it.

Smith is the only maternal fetal medicine specialist in the Waco area that treats high risk pregnancies. She works first-hand with pregnant women who have high blood pressure and has seen what can happen when left undiagnosed or not monitored.