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UIHC educates women about unique risks for high blood pressure

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HIAWATHA, Iowa (KWWL) -- A few years back, The American Heath Association ('AHA') released updated guidelines for ways to take blood pressure, and what elevated numbers looked like.

New findings now show that 50% of adult women have high blood pressure, and nearly three quarters of those with high blood pressure don't have it under control.

In Iowa, about 30% of women have high blood pressure.

One group of women the new AHA guidelines did not address were issues of high blood pressure during and post pregnancy, which has prompted University of Iowa Heath Care ('UIHC') to do further research.

According to Donna Santillan, PhD, a Research Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Iowa Health Care and an American Heart Association researcher, many times, women's pregnancies reveal they have high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension.

"There's debate about whether pregnancy unmasks the disease that you would have developed later on, like if you were to get pregnant and you get hypertension in pregnancy, that you were probably going to be hypertensive later on in life," said Dr. Santillan.

The 'disease' Dr. Santillan is referring to is called "preeclampsia" which is the term for women who have high blood pressure during their pregnancy.

Dr. Santillan says post-pregnancy is such a critical time for women to stay on top of their hypertension.

"Only half of women will go to their follow-up appointment. Women are just too good about ignoring symptoms in themselves, especially because you're taking care of a new baby, but you do need to take care of yourself because there is risk," said Dr. Santillan.

Women with high risk of hypertension should also stay away from certain forms of birth control like the patch, the combination pill, or the vaginal ring, and suggests looking into an IUD instead.

"So estrogen that is in some forms of birth control, increases your risk of hypertension, cause it contributes to narrowing the small blood vessels, and it increases your risk for clotting," said Dr. Santillan.

Hypertension is also the leading cause of one in five women to have strokes.

And for women, strokes are not like how they are portrayed in films, where men feel pain in their arms, and then it travels to their chests causing them to fall to the ground.

"It's not the same way women experience symptoms of a heart attack," said Dr. Santillan. "For women, it's a pain in her jaw, which is not recognized by women, so they wouldn't go in and get the care."

Additionally, women often think high blood pressure is linked to eating too much salt, being overweight, or stressing too much, and while they are contributing factors, it ultimately falls on family history, genetics and a woman's immune system.

Many women think they could have done something different to prevent their hypertension.

Dr. Santillan addresses this misconception head on, "There are genetic factors, immunologic factors, … what I don't want is for women to beat themselves up that they somehow caused it or they could have done something different."

She essentially says there are two groups of women and "if you're going to get it, you're going to get it."

Dr. Santillan says that there devices on the commercial markets where women can monitor their blood pressure from apps on their phones. They're known as "Wi-fi Smart Blood Pressure Monitors"

In the event that one needs to get their blood pressure checked, and does not have direct access to a physician, or is in an area experiencing desert clinics, one useful tip Dr. Santillan offers it go to your local fire station.

KWWL spoke with Jason Hernandez, Medical Supervisor at Waterloo Fire & Rescue, and confirmed they are able to check women with preeclampsia or eclampsia, and advices to call so they can come to you instead.

They also provide this service to anyone with high blood pressure and in need of getting their vitals check.

If preeclampsia turns into a severe complication of preeclampsia, it's known as "eclampsia," and pregnant women's high blood pressure could lead to seizures. The fire department says they can check blood pressures under these severe circumstances if women cannot get to a doctor in time.

If you feeling that it may be more serious, call 911.

Many researchers at UIHC are continuing to study the long-term impacts of health issues, and to further learn about Dr. Santillan and UIHC's research, CLICK HERE.

To find a clinical trial at the University of Iowa: UI Health Care Clinical Research and Trials | University of Iowa Clinical Research and Trials

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Dani Miskell

Weekend Anchor & Reporter

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