For a pregnant woman to be rushed suddenly to hospital with high blood pressure can be terrifying - both she and her unborn child could be at serious risk. To help hospitals plan procedures for making the experience as comforting and supportive as possible, health psychologist Julie Barlow and her colleagues interviewed twelve pregnant women about their experience of being hospitalised with high blood pressure. The interviews were held within three days of the women's hospital admission.
Qualitative analysis of the women's comments uncovered four key themes. The women were searching for meaning in what had happened to them. For example, several of them reported feeling like frauds because they hadn't experienced any symptoms (their condition had been identified by routine tests). "It's to do with preeclampsia" one woman said, "but I didn't understand what that is cos I'm fine in myself and the baby's fine... and you're thinking 'why can't I go home?'"
The women tended to search for the possible causes of their condition, especially in relation to stressful events. One woman said it would be beneficial to learn relaxation techniques.
There were several comments pointing to the problem of inconsistent information from clinical staff. "I'm fed up with it," one woman said. "They tell you different things...when I got brought in, they says, you'll be in for a fortnight and you'll probably have the baby. And next breath...you'll probably have the baby in two to three days."
Evidence also emerged for what the researchers labelled social factors - the perceived benefit of support, especially from husbands, and the tendency for the woman to compare themselves to others at the hospital who were either better off than they were (so-called "upward social comparison") or less well off ("downward social comparison"). For example, one woman felt reassured by the sight of another patient having a normal delivery and appearing fine.
The researchers cautioned that this research is only preliminary; nevertheless, some practical implications were already apparent. For example, the researchers said hospital staff should be aware that "fear, anxiety and being in strange surroundings could interfere with women's ability to absorb information." Relationship support from partners and parents also seemed important, they said, and the introduction of relaxation techniques to the ward could be beneficial.
Julie Helen Barlow, Jenny Hainsworth, Stephen Thornton (2008). Women's experiences of hospitalisation with hypertension during pregnancy: feeling a fraud Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 26 (3), 157-167 DOI: 10.1080/02646830701691384
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.