Memorial Healthcare System is warning that the number of pregnant and postpartum women with high blood pressure in South Florida is significantly higher than the national average. Preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy, is affecting 9.4% of maternity patients at Memorial’s three birthing hospitals, more than double the national average of 4.2% over the past 30 years. Because of health disparities, the risk to women of color is especially high, particularly vulnerable are non-Hispanic Black women with additional risk factors such as being over 35 years of age, having late or no prenatal care, and experiencing obesity and other complications.
“Raising awareness about a problem such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease in pregnant and postpartum women can make the difference between life and death,” said Juan Carlos Brenes, MD, medical director of Clinical Cardiology at Memorial Regional Hospital. He furthers explains that preeclampsia can present in different ways and women should remain vigilant during pregnancy and after they deliver the baby.
Preeclampsia poses a life-threatening risk to both the mother and unborn child and increases the risk of cardiac complications later in life. Currently, there is no known cure for preeclampsia during pregnancy other than delivery of the baby and placenta in the hope that the mother's blood pressure may subside.
Patricia Hall, a patient at Memorial Regional Hospital, had what she called a perfect pregnancy, and her pre-pregnancy hypertension remained under control without medication. However, she continued to monitor her blood pressure after her delivery, following her doctor's recommendations. Patricia's vigilance and prompt action helped her seek appropriate medical care when her blood pressure skyrocketed postpartum.
"Seventy-two hours after delivering, I went home, and that night my pressure went through the roof. It was 169 over 102. That, from my experience, was not normal," said Hall, who experienced postpartum preeclampsia. She arrived at the Emergency Room at Memorial Regional, where the medical team followed preeclampsia protocols, put her on medication immediately, and provided her with a teal, medical alert bracelet that identifies her as having preeclampsia. Patricia credits Dr. Brenes with saving her life.
Preeclampsia can present with several warning signals, such as elevated blood pressure, abrupt swelling, intractable headaches, impaired vision, and upper abdominal pain, which may occur during pregnancy or after delivery.
Elvire Jacques, MD, maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Memorial Healthcare System, stressed the importance of access to quality care. “Women who do have preeclampsia are at increased risk for having cardiac complications, so we want to make sure they are not just taken care of at that initial point in time, but that we provide the follow-up care as well,” she said.
Memorial Healthcare System remains committed to providing high-quality care to its patients and educating the community about the risks of preeclampsia and the importance of monitoring blood pressure during and after pregnancy.
Memorial Primary Care created a special position called OB Hypertension Navigator. The goal of this medical professional is to help improve outcomes, particularly for women of color and their babies in Broward County. The navigator works with expectant women who have or are at risk of hypertension to coordinate timely prenatal care, educate about the danger signs, monitor postpartum blood pressure, and ensure new moms complete postpartum visits.
For the Memorial Primary Care OB Hypertension Navigator, call 754-971-7780.