Áine Brislane Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation

Understanding maternal and fetal cardiovascular health during twin pregnancies to reduce complications

Women carrying twins face a much higher risk of health complications during their pregnancy, compared to women with single babies. Women carrying twins have double the odds of complications due to high blood pressure, 60 per cent greater odds of postpartum depression and 12 times higher risk of giving birth early. Such issues cause health problems for both mom and babies during pregnancy, but also, later in life.

As the number of twin pregnancies increases globally due to higher maternal age and assisted reproductive therapies, researcher Áine Brislane says it’s imperative to understand the cardiovascular adaptations for both mom and babies in twin pregnancies to develop early identification and prevention of such complications.

Brislane also has a personal connection for inspiring her to study and improve health outcomes for both women and babies born of multiple-birth pregnancies. “My mom gave birth to two sets of twins!” she explains. As a twin herself, Brislane says she has always been very curious about the physiology of twin pregnancy and the stresses it places on the body.

Brislane’s postdoctoral research focuses on the sympathetic nervous system—our body’s fight or flight response—because it controls blood pressure during pregnancy. It has been established that women carrying a single baby, and who subsequently develop high blood pressure, have exaggerated responses of the sympathetic nervous system.

However, tests used to measure this system are not currently used in twin pregnancy because the normal changes when carrying twins have never been investigated to establish a baseline. Brislane’s study will be the first to assess the sympathetic nervous system in twin pregnancies.

Sixty participants (30 carrying twins) will be recruited for the study, and participants will visit the Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health at the University of Alberta for testing in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Brislane will measure blood pressure, heart rate and sympathetic nervous system activity at rest and during three non-invasive stress tests. After birth, she will record pregnancy, labour and delivery outcomes.

Brislane is appreciative of the investment that the foundations are making in her training. “This support provides me with ample opportunity to develop many practical and theoretical research skills that will prepare me for a career in women and children’s health research.”

Áine Brislane is supervised by Margie Davenport and Craig Steinback in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation. Her fellowship has been funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.