The Heart Health 4 Moms team, including Janet Rich-Edwards (far left) and Ellen Seely (third from right), wearing red to support heart health

The Heart Health 4 Moms team, including Janet Rich-Edwards (far left) and Ellen Seely (third from right), wearing red to support heart health

Five out of every 100 pregnant women are diagnosed with preeclampsia during the second half of their pregnancy. Characterized by high blood pressure and signs of kidney damage, preeclampsia can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Currently, the only cure is delivery of the baby.

Additionally, although women generally return to good health after delivery, preeclampsia is a predictor of future hypertension and cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association, preeclampsia doubles the risk of heart disease and stroke and triples the risk for high blood pressure later in life.

In order to help new mothers who recently experienced preeclampsia improve their long-term health and well-being, BWH’s Ellen W. Seely, MD, and Janet Rich-Edwards, ScD, joined forces with the Preeclampsia Foundation to launch an online study called “Heart Health 4 Moms” (HH4M). The online study is currently open to women living in the U.S. or its territories, who have given birth in the past five months and who had preeclampsia. The study is being funded in part by the national Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.

“Our study is the first attempt to identify the group of women who have experienced preeclampsia and help them take charge of their health after pregnancy, while raising awareness about the condition,” said Rich-Edwards, director of Developmental Epidemiology in the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology.

The study, which began recruiting in July, tests a lifestyle intervention program that encourages participants to make healthy changes, such as getting consistent exercise and making nutritious food choices, in order to lower their blood pressure, weight and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In addition to empowering participants to improve their health, the study also seeks to help them return to their pre-pregnancy weight since weight retained six and 12 months after childbirth is a predictor of being overweight or obese in the future—a major risk factor for hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

Participants are divided into two groups: an enhanced control group, which receives a variety of online resources, such as access to patient information on smoking cessation and healthy eating; and an intervention group, which receives information about behavioral changes, as well as support to make these changes. The second group also has email and phone access to a lifestyle coach who is a registered dietician, and participants can view online educational PowerPoint modules. These participants create a personalized action plan each week with goals for the week, which the lifestyle coach reviews and advises on.

Both groups receive a scale and a blood pressure device that uploads the gathered information to the site. Data on blood pressure and weight are collected at the beginning of the study, three months after the start date and then at nine months after childbirth.

“This study is so important because we are taking a step to enable women with prior preeclampsia to reduce their risk for hypertension and heart disease,” said Seely, director of Clinical Research in the Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension Division. “A web-based program accessible by PC or cell phone allows new mothers to access the program at any hour, day or night, when they can fit it into an already demanding schedule.”

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