Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. Kristin B. Ashford
Despite advances in obstetric care, hypertensive disorders continue to complicate pregnancies at a high rate. Worldwide, hypertensive disorders affect up to 10% of pregnancies. The United States has seen a 25% increase in the incidence of hypertensive disorders over the last two decades (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2017). These complications constitute one of the greatest causes of maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality with an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 deaths per year across the world (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2017). Although the etiology of hypertensive disorders remains unclear, there may be an association with both maternal biological and psychological distress in the development of the disorder. Although both distress and biomarkers have been identified in association with a hypertensive disorder, little data exist examining the components of distress and the alterations in biomarkers in women developing these disorders. Due to the limited evidence, a critical need exists to examine the relationship of perceived maternal distress and biomarker measures in the development of a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy in order to better understand this phenomenon.
The purposes of this dissertation were to: 1) understand the experience of having a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy; 2) to investigate the association of perceived stress and changes in immune response via biomarker measures in women who develop a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy; 3) to review, summarize, and evaluate the literature examining the relationship between perceived maternal distress (stress, anxiety, and depression) and the development of a hypertensive disorder; and 4) to investigate the association of perceived distress in the development of a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy.
Data obtained from a qualitative study of women with a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy placed on bed rest reported several stressors associated with the experience. These stressors related to differing and often conflicting management plans by different providers and not feeling providers heard their concerns. The evidence supports these women experience stress during this pregnancy complication. Analysis of data obtained at each trimester of pregnancy did identify differences in biomarker levels based on perceived stress and women with a hypertensive disorder and those without a hypertensive disorder. Evidence from a systematic review of literature supporting maternal distress in the development of a hypertensive disorder was mixed. However, few studies existed and of those reviewed, most lacked rigor. Analysis of data obtained early and late in pregnancy did not indicate a relationship between psychological distress and the development of a hypertensive disorder in pregnancy. Women with a higher BMI were 12% more likely to develop a hypertensive disorder.
The factors associated with the development of a hypertensive disorder are complex. Maternal perceived stress and inflammatory responses differ between women with a hypertensive disorder and those without a hypertensive disorder in pregnancy; however maternal distress did not differ between groups. Body mass index was associated with the development of hypertension in pregnancy. Clinicians need to include assessment of maternal BMI as a modifiable risk factor in the development of a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy. In addition, although psychological distress was not associated with the development of a hypertensive disorder, women still suffer with components of distress. Clinicians could identify and support women experiencing distress thereby promoting a healthier pregnancy.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Kehler, Stephanie A., "Examining Biological and Psychological Variables in Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy" (2017). Theses and Dissertations--Nursing. 32.