More than 15,000 pregnant women a year are needlessly having labour induced because their blood pressure is measured incorrectly, experts have warned.
High blood pressure is a major red flag during pregnancy as it may be a sign of pre-eclampsia – which can threaten the lives of mother and child.
If high blood pressure is detected late in pregnancy, labour is usually induced so the child is born as soon as possible.
Thousands of pregnant woman a year are needlessly being induced because their blood pressure is high (file photo)
But experts at St George’s Hospital in London have warned that many women are having inducements unnecessarily because their blood pressure has been raised artificially by the stress of being in hospital. This problem – ‘white coat syndrome’ – could be averted by measuring blood pressure at home.
The team has developed a blood pressure cuff that connects to a mobile phone and allows women to accurately test their levels at home.
Today the NHS is launching an app which, combined with the cuff, helps to distinguish between women who need to go to hospital for further assessment and those who can continue with their pregnancy until labour starts naturally.
Professor Asma Khalil, a consultant obstetrician at St George’s, said: ‘At home, many women are calmer – and this yields a much more accurate result.
‘We induce the majority – more than 90 per cent – of women who develop high blood pressure in pregnancy unless they go into labour early.’ Around 63,000 women have labour induced every year because of high blood pressure.
Studies suggest around 25 to 30 per cent of these – 15,000 a year – suffer from ‘white coat syndrome’.
A study led by Professor Khalil, which appears in the Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynaecology journal, found blood pressure readings from women in hospital which required medical intervention were up to five times higher than those who had them taken at home using the app.
The app – called Hampton – has been launched by St George’s, Leicester University Hospital and Bolton NHS Foundation Hospital.
Experts at St George’s Hospital said blood pressure may have been raised artificially by the stress of being in hospital (file photo)
It is available on the NHS at some hospitals but from today can also be downloaded by patients for £14. A cuff costs roughly £20.
Professor Khalil said: ‘Hampton is revolutionising the way we look after pregnant women, by empowering expectant mothers to be involved in their own care while potentially saving the NHS millions.’
Pre-eclampsia is caused by reduced blood flow in the placenta, which restricts the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the baby and prevents growth.
Although experts know the warning signs – protein in the urine, headaches and swollen ankles – these symptoms often appear in healthy pregnancies.
This means it is often missed until blood pressure soars, at which point labour is likely to be induced.
Inducing childbirth can be an unpleasant procedure, with labour triggered either by rupturing a woman’s membranes or by inserting artificial hormones.