33% of US women at risk for complicated pregnancies

A third of women who are in their reproductive years suffer from chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer and asthma, which raise their risks of pregnancy complications. 

The particular complications that each of these conditions may contribute to vary, but include high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and even birth defects. 

But, the University of Utah authors note, many women don’t see Obstetrician/gynecologists until they are pregnant or trying to get pregnant and are unaware that their conditions could cause additional problems for them or developing babies. 

This is not to say that women with health conditions should necessarily not have children – but they ought to understand what they may face in pregnancy, the study authors say. 

Health conditions like high blood pressure are common and manageable - but put 33% of US women at risk for complicated pregnancies and miscarriage, a new study found

Health conditions like high blood pressure are common and manageable – but put 33% of US women at risk for complicated pregnancies and miscarriage, a new study found 

Many common health problems lend themselves to complications in pregnancy. 

Among them, some that affect a particularly large proportion of women in the US include high blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome, kidney issues, many autoimmune disorder, HIV, cancer or infections such as hepatitis. 

These conditions affect women in the US at high rates.

For example, about 40 percent of women in the US are obese. 

Those estimated 24.4 million women are at higher risks of having miscarriages or stillbirths.  

Even if their babies develop normally, these women are at elevated risks of preeclampsia, a pregnancy-linked high blood pressure condition that can become life-threatening. 

Over 30 percent of women have high blood pressure outside of pregnancy, which means they will likely have preeclampsia as well. 

That in turn puts them at risk for heart and kidney disease and stroke. 

High blood pressure may restrict blood flow to the placenta and keeping as many nutrients as should from reaching the developing fetus. 

This may mean a woman’s baby doesn’t grow enough and is born small, raising her or his risks of complications both early on and later in life.  

The University of Utah research team assessed data on some 742,000 women of reproductive ages – considered to be between 16 and 49 – who came through the university’s health system between 2010 and 2016. 

In addition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of 21 conditions that may cause issues in pregnancy, they searched the data for conditions like asthma, depression and thyroid problems that are not definitively associated with pregnancy problems but are likely linked. 

Almost 33 percent of their large sample of women had at least one of those problems. 

With careful planning and discussions with doctors a high-risk pregnancy can still be a safe one.  

But nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned. 

‘The reasons for unintended pregnancy vary,’ noted Dr Jessica Sanders, a director of family planning research at the U of Utah. 

‘Women with chronic conditions may have competing priorities. When you’re trying to balance out your health care concerns [and] your medication use, thinking seriously about contraception can be overwhelming.’ 

She and her team found that just eight percent women were using the ‘most effective’ forms of birth control, such as implants and intrauterine devices (IUDS), which are long acting and don’t require women to remember to take a daily pill. 

”This…presents health care providers with a tremendous opportunity to increase awareness of and access to forms of contraception that are acceptable to these women so they can optimize their health prior to pregnancy and achieve their reproductive goals without medical complications,’ said Dr Sanders. 

She and her co-authors urge women to learn more about what their own health means for the health of her pregnancy and her baby, and hope that doctors will be more informative so that women can make careful, informed choices. 

‘It is completely up to the woman with a chronic condition and her family to determine if she wants to become pregnant,’ Dr Lori Gawron, first study author says. 

‘But I want her to understand what the risks are ahead of time. If she isn’t willing to take those risks, then she should be using the safest and most effective birth control method that works for her.’ 

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