Alpha Phi Foundation funds research to improve maternal healthcare for hypertension

by Lizzie Hineman in Press Release

The University of Iowa (UI) receives the 2020 Heart to Heart Grant to fund clinical research that can enhance care and improve cardiovascular decisions and outcomes in pregnancy.

Led by Dr. Donna Santillan and Dr. Debra Brandt, this project will use the $100,000 grant to expand on their preliminary study to elucidate the effects of body positioning on blood pressure measurements for pregnant patients during each trimester, which is critical to diagnosis and management of hypertension in pregnancy.

“Hypertension is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, and hypertension in pregnancy leave the mother and child at high risk for hypertension later in life. Over-treatment or under-treatment of pregnancy-related hypertension can have serious consequences, including stroke and preterm birth,” says Santillan. “There has been much research into the proper patient placement and technique for obtaining blood pressures; however, pregnant women have largely been omitted from the studies.”

Obtaining an accurate blood pressure measurement is vital for all people but is especially true for expectant mothers. Hypertension causes the heart to work harder and the normal physiology of pregnancy already causes cardiac output to increase by 30-50%.

Furthermore, the prevalence of white coat hypertension—more commonly known as white coat syndrome—among pregnant women is 31.3%, which is higher than in the non-pregnant population.

Drs. Santillan and Brandt plan to employ the use of Bluetooth-enabled home blood pressure monitors to compare their research measurements to those obtained at home. When at-home measurements are considered, it may unmask patients’ white coat hypertension and prevent unnecessary medical interventions, including preterm delivery.

“It is important to me that Alpha Phi supports this project so that we can ensure that women are receiving the best possible care in pregnancy, especially in light of the increasing pregnancy-related mortality in the U.S.,” says Melinda Fick Alison (Omicron-Missouri), the Alpha Phi alumna who nominated this project for the 2020 Heart to Heart Grant.

Members of Delta Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Phi Fraternity

The results from this study will be used to inform clinical practice and will be widely distributed. The UI team also plans to engage Alpha Phi members in all phases of this project by recruiting Alpha Phi UI nursing students to work on the study and by organizing events for local Alpha Phi members to learn about the results of the research as well as the long-term relationship between cardiovascular health in pregnancy and postpartum health.

“Pregnancy is an understudied period of women’s lives, and this project can fill a critical knowledge gap that will make a difference in maternal health and clinical decision-making,” says Mary Beth Cooleen Tully (Epsilon Psi-Lehigh), Alpha Phi Foundation Board Chair. “Investing in maternal heart health is essential to ensure the well-being of not only mothers, but of generations to come. We are thrilled to support Drs. Santillan and Brandt’s research through this year’s Heart to Heart Grant.”

The Heart to Heart Grant is made possible by our community of generous Alpha Phi Foundation donors and volunteers. Since its inception in 1993, the Heart to Heart Grant has funded over 30 cutting-edge projects focused in the advancement of women’s heart health education and research.


Women’s Heart Health Program

Women’s heart health has been the philanthropic focus of Alpha Phi since 1946. Through the generosity of donors, Alpha Phi Foundation granted over $390,000 to heart health-focused projects and organizations during the 2018-2019 academic year. Learn more about the Women’s Heart Health Program.

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