Researcher links race and cardiovascular health to preterm labor


A researcher at the Health Science Center has found a disturbing link among race, cardiovascular health and pre-term labor.

“We found that black women are at a higher risk for delivering preterm, low-birth weight babies than white women, and their cardiovascular reactivity, or the way their cardiovascular systems react to stress, may be the culprit,” said Teresa James, Ph.D., R.N., C.N.M., clinical instructor in the department of family nursing care.

Dr. James, along with colleagues at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and Columbia University School of Medicine in New York conducted a four-year study of 500 black and white pregnant active-duty military patients at Wilford Hall Medical Center. The study was funded by a $4 million U.S. Department of Defense grant. Their findings were published in the March 2006 issue ofEpidemiology.

Dr. James, who retired from active duty in the U.S. Air Force this year, has more than 30 years of experience in perinatal nursing and was the senior nurse executive for maternal and child nursing at Wilford Hall Medical Center prior to joining the Health Science Center faculty.

Dr. James’ research suggests that a woman’s race is strongly linked to experiencing preterm labor.

“Previous studies indicated an alarming rate of preterm deliveries among black women nationwide. But none had looked at why this was occurring. What we found was that when exposed to even minor stressors, a significant number of the black women had faster heart rates and higher blood pressures, for example, than the white women in the study,” Dr. James said. “We also found that these same black women were delivering earlier. The risk of preterm delivery among the black women in the study was approximately double what it was for the white women (13.9 percent versus 6.2 percent).”

Dr. James said the findings emphasize the importance for women, especially black women, to closely monitor their cardiovascular health, not only for their own well being, but for their children’s health as well.

“Too many women don’t pay attention to how stress negatively affects their health, until it’s too late. It’s important for black women in particular to be aware because of their susceptibility to heart disease and preterm delivery.”

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