USPSTF Backs Screening for Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that clinicians screen for hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, which can cause serious and fatal complications, according to a new draft statement.

All pregnant people should have their blood pressure measured at each prenatal visit to identify and prevent serious health problems. The grade B recommendation expands on the task force’s 2017 recommendation on screening for preeclampsia to include all hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

Dr Esa Davis

“Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are some of the leading causes of serious complications and death for pregnant people,” Esa Davis, MD, a USPSTF member and associate professor of medicine and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told Medscape Medical News.

In the US, the rate of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy has increased in recent decades, jumping from about 500 cases per 10,000 deliveries in the early 1990s to more than 1000 cases per 10,000 deliveries in the mid-2010s.

“The US Preventive Services Task Force wants to help save the lives of pregnant people and their babies by ensuring that clinicians have the most up-to-date guidance on how to find these conditions early,” she said.

The draft recommendation statement was published online on February 7.

Screening Recommendation

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, including gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, eclampsia, and chronic hypertension with and without superimposed preeclampsia, are marked by elevated blood pressure during pregnancy.

The disorders can lead to complications for the pregnant person, such as stroke, retinal detachment, organ damage or failure, and seizures, as well as for the baby, including restricted growth, low birth weight, and stillbirth. Many complications can lead to early induction of labor, cesarean delivery, and preterm birth.

After commissioning a systematic evidence review, the USPSTF provided a grade B recommendation for clinicians to offer or provide screening for hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. The recommendation concludes with “moderate certainty” that screening with blood pressure measurements has “substantial net benefit.”

The task force notes that it is “essential” for all pregnant women and pregnant people of all genders to be screened and that those who screen positive receive evidence-based management of their condition.

Risk factors include a history of eclampsia or preeclampsia, a family history of preeclampsia, a previous adverse pregnancy outcome, having gestational diabetes or chronic hypertension, being pregnant with more than one baby, having a first pregnancy, having a high body mass index prior to pregnancy, and being 35 years of age or older.

In addition, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native people face higher risks and are more likely both to have and to die from a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. In particular, Black people experience higher rates of maternal and infant morbidity and perinatal mortality than other racial and ethnic groups, and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy account for a larger proportion of these outcomes.

Although measuring blood pressure throughout pregnancy is an important first step, it’s not enough to improve inequities in health outcomes, the task force notes. Identifying hypertensive disorders of pregnancy requires adequate prenatal follow-up visits, surveillance, and evidence-based care, which can be a barrier for some pregnant people.

Follow-up visits with healthcare providers such as nurses, nurse midwives, pediatricians, and lactation consultants could help, as well as screening and monitoring during the postpartum period. Other approaches include telehealth, connections to community resources during the perinatal period, collaborative care provided in medical homes, and multilevel interventions to address underlying health inequities that increase health risks during pregnancy.

“Since screening is not enough to address the health disparities experienced by Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native people, healthcare professionals should also do what they can to help address these inequities,” Davis said. “For example, the Task Force identified a few promising approaches, including using standardized clinical bundles of best practices for disease management to help ensure that all pregnant persons receive appropriate, equitable care.”

Additional Considerations

The USPSTF looked at the evidence on additional methods of screening but continued to find that measuring blood pressure at each prenatal visit is the best approach. Other evaluations, such as testing for proteinuria when preeclampsia is suspected, has low accuracy for detecting proteinuria in pregnancy.

Although there is no currently available treatment for preeclampsia except delivery, management strategies for diagnosed hypertensive disorders of pregnancy include close fetal and maternal monitoring, antihypertension medications, and magnesium sulfate for seizure prophylaxis when indicated.

Previously, the USPSTF also recommended that pregnant Black people be considered for treatment with low-dose aspirin to prevent preeclampsia, with aspirin use recommended for those with at least one additional moderate risk factor. Clinicians should also be aware of the complications of poor health outcomes among populations who face higher risks.

The USPSTF noted several gaps for future research, including the best approaches for blood pressure monitoring during pregnancy and the postpartum period, how to address health inequities through multilevel interventions, how to increase access to care through telehealth services, and how to mitigate cardiovascular complications later in life in patients diagnosed with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

“Continued research is needed in these promising areas,” Davis said. “We hope all clinicians will join us in helping ensure that all parents and babies have access to the care they need to be as healthy as possible.”

The draft recommendation statement and draft evidence review were posted for public comment on the USPSTF website. Comments can be submitted until March 6.

No relevant financial relationships have been disclosed.

USPSTF. Published February 7, 2023. Full text

Carolyn Crist is a health and medical journalist who reports on the latest studies for Medscape, MDedge, and WebMD.

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