Maternity staff urged to carry out better checks of blood pressure in pregnancy

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Checking the blood pressure of pregnant women accurately and regularly is the best way of diagnosing potentially deadly disorders, new research claims today.

High blood pressure is the most common medical problem in pregnancy, affecting up to 15 per cent of pregnancies and accounting for about a quarter of all antenatal admissions in the UK.

They carry significant risks to the health of mothers-to-be and remain one of the leading causes of maternal death worldwide, while they also carry risks for the baby and can result in fatalities or low pre-term or birth weight in infants.

The review published in the Obstetrician & Gynaecologist (TOG) said accurate blood pressure measurement is also important for the diagnosis and management of other issues such as obstetric haemorrhage, severe infections and safe abortion.

It said blood pressure monitoring is the most important and frequent screening test in the antenatal period and should be undertaken by healthcare assistants, midwives, GPs and obstetricians on all pregnant women regularly.

The paper highlighted a previous report which found that the most common reason for substandard care in maternal deaths in the UK secondary to pre-eclampsia or eclampsia was failure to recognise and treat high blood pressure.

There were 321 maternal deaths from direct or indirect causes in the UK in 2009-12 but death rates from high blood pressure disorders in pregnancy are lower than ever.

Nearly all maternal deaths occur in low and middle income countries, where contributing factors include a lack of access to cheap, easy to use blood pressure monitoring devices.

TOG editor-in-chief Jason Waugh said: “As this review shows, the ability to measure blood pressure accurately is an indispensable skill for obstetricians, midwives and other healthcare workers, regardless of setting, in order to prevent maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality, both in the UK and worldwide.

“This review is helpful in enabling clinicians to do everything they can to ensure that their blood pressure measurement is accurate.”