To reduce preeclampsia risk, study says take action before and between pregnancies

Aug. 26, 2021

 A new study released by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers found that a woman who develops preeclampsia — a serious complication of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and possible organ damage — during her first pregnancy is more at risk to get the condition again during a second, or any successive pregnancies.

Preeclampsia — a complication that occurs in about 1 in every 25 pregnancies in the United States — is characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to an organ system, most often the liver or kidneys. It usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had previously been normal.

The team, led by S. Michelle Ogunwole, M.D., a fellow in the Division of General Internal Medicine, and Wendy Bennett, M.D., M.P.H, Associate Professor of Medicine, both at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, published their findings Aug. 16, 2021, in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Preconception healthcare is really important as it’s a window of opportunity to think about your future health,” says Ogunwole. “We encourage patients to work on chronic disease issues before their pregnancies and between their pregnancies.”

Ogunwole says a woman who develops preeclampsia during her first pregnancy is more at risk of the condition repeating during a second or any successive pregnancies.

In their study, Ogunwole and her colleagues statistically compared two sets of women who were participating in the Boston Birth Cohort, an ongoing collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Boston University led by the former’s Xiaobin Wang, M.D., Sc.D., M.P.H., Zanvyl Krieger Professor in Children's Health.

The researchers wanted to understand the differences between women who developed preeclampsia and those who did not, and how a first case of the condition affects subsequent pregnancies. The team, says Ogunwole, studied 618 women to gain “rich maternal health data among racially and ethnically diverse pregnant women.”

Ogunwole’s team found that obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and preterm birth were common factors in women who had preeclampsia during both first and second pregnancies, or developed the condition during gestation with a second or later child.

JHU release