March 26, 2024

Study examines experiences of pregnant women living with high blood pressure

Specialized Calgary clinic offers unique research opportunity in women’s cardiovascular health
Two women stand next to a presentation board
Kim Nix stands beside her mentor Kara Nerenberg at a poster competition Courtesy Libin Cardiovascular Institute

New research led by a University of Calgary clinical research fellow is shedding light on the impact of a specialized clinic for pregnant women diagnosed with hypertension, a condition related to high blood pressure that can result in serious long-term health complications if untreated.

Dr. Kimberley Nix, MD, a general internal medicine fellow who is also pursuing her master's in epidemiology at the Cumming School of Medicine, was first author on the study looking at the impact of the clinic treating women after they experience hypertensive disorders in pregnancy. It was published in the Canadian Cardiovascular Society journal CJC Open.

The study asked pregnant women treated at the specialized clinic in Calgary, called PreVASC, about their experiences. Researchers found 95 per cent of the participants reported positive changes to their exercise, medications and diet — all factors known to prevent heart disease.

Nix recently received second place in the UCalgary’s Clinical Investigator Program Excellence in Published Research Award competition for her study.

“This study was among the first of its kind in Canada, and it’s exciting to see the clinic’s longitudinal model is successful in improving cardiovascular risk factors from a patient perspective,” says Nix. “It’s an honour to be recognized by the CIP program.”

Nix said she hopes the study will help raise awareness about the success of the PreVASC clinic model, which focuses on comprehensive care through cardiovascular risk factor screening and risk reduction management strategies tailored specifically for female patients.

The clinic, which is in unique in Canada in providing specialized lifelong care to women who have experienced a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy, has operated in Calgary for a decade. Its mission is to reduce the risk of heart disease after pregnancy.

Many pregnant women unaware of risk

Women who experience a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy, such as gestational hypertension, preeclampsia and H.E.L.L.P (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes, Low Platelet) Syndrome, are two to five times more likely to experience heart and other vascular diseases in their lifetime.

About 4,000 Albertans are diagnosed with hypertensive disorders of pregnancy annually, yet many are unaware of their increased future health risks.

“We are currently only catching between five to 10 per cent of women who might benefit from this care, so more work needs to be done,” says Nix.

Nix, whose goal is to specialize in obstetric medicine and conduct research on postpartum cardiometabolic health, says Nerenberg’s team is also working collaboratively with other centres across Canada to advance research and improve clinical care in this area.

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