Iowa researchers receive grant to study hypertensive disorders of pregnancy

Published on October 8, 2020

pregnant woman sitting at bed and holds hands on belly in bedroom at home.

Researchers from the University of Iowa have received a $3.5 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study the associations of sedentary behavior, physical activity, and sleep with hypertensive (high blood pressure) disorders of pregnancy, such as gestational hypertension and preeclampsia.

The study’s principal investigator at the UI is Kara Whitaker, assistant professor of health and human physiology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a secondary appointment in epidemiology in the College of Public Health.

Pilot work for this study, called Pregnancy 24/7, revealed that women with high levels of sedentary behavior across pregnancy were three times more likely to develop hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, even after accounting for physical activity.

“The goal of Pregnancy 24/7 is to further study these behaviors so we can provide clear and specific guidelines for women to improve their health and the health of their baby during this critical period of time,” Whitaker says.

According to the grant abstract, 500 women in early pregnancy will be recruited to take part in a multi-site cohort study at the University of Iowa and University of Pittsburgh. Women will wear two state-of-the-art devices for seven days in each trimester of pregnancy to assess sedentary behavior, sleep, and physical activity.

Adverse pregnancy outcomes, including gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, affect 10-20% of pregnant women and are major risk factors for future maternal cardiovascular disease.

The research team at the University of Iowa includes Bridget Zimmerman in the Department of Biostatistics, and Donna Santillian and Mark Santillian in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.