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More women developing dangerous high blood pressure in pregnancy

The maternal mortality rate has been increasing in the United States. For every 100,000 babies born alive, 17 women die. Medical experts say one reason could be that more pregnant women are developing high blood pressure, leading to complications during and after pregnancy.

Kara and Kurt Schooley are focused on eating well. Kara has a history of high blood pressure. When Kara became pregnant with twins, she and her doctor closely monitored her heart health.

“I was starting towards the end of my pregnancy to become preeclamptic. I was gaining ten pounds of water weight every two days,” Kara said.

Kara went on bed rest but delivered the twins just shy of 33 weeks. Bennett was four pounds, 15 ounces. Amelia was just four pounds -- small, but healthy. Kara’s cardiologist, Dr. Laxmi Mehta, of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, was concerned about her.

Pregnancy puts pressure on the heart. And even after delivery, women with high blood pressure have a higher risk of stroke, pre-eclampsia and seizures.

“If you don’t know that this is an issue and that you could potentially die from it either during pregnancy, in the one year after, or thereafter or that the long-term effects,” Mehta said.

The American Heart Association recommends pregnant patients keep their blood pressure below 140 over 90. Mehta said they should also watch their sodium intake, follow a Mediterranean diet, and incorporate moderate exercise as approved by their doctor.

Kara took blood pressure medicine, followed a heart healthy program, and four years later, the Schooley’s added Parker to the mix.

“I’m active watching again sodium, watching the things that Dr. Mehta’s tried to help me with, but, she’s also informed me we will be life-long partners,” Kara said.

Mehta said women who have high blood pressure can have healthy pregnancies, but it’s important they be followed not only by their obstetrician, but by a cardiologist. Mehta authored the American Heart Association’s recent statement highlighting the need for managing cardiovascular disease before, during and after pregnancy.