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High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

Overview

Highlights

  1. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg.
  2. If high blood pressure continues after 20 weeks of pregnancy, preeclampsia can develop.
  3. Some traditional blood pressure medications can cause problems in pregnant women. Talk to your doctor before taking any medication for high blood pressure.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg. The condition can become a major problem for some pregnant women.

High blood pressure during pregnancy is not always serious. However, it can sometimes cause severe health complications for both mother and developing child. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increasing number of pregnant women in the United States have this condition.

What Causes High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy?

Causes

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), there are several possible causes of high blood pressure during pregnancy. These include:

  • being overweight or obese
  • failing to stay active
  • smoking
  • drinking alcohol
  • first time pregnancy
  • a family history of kidney disease, preeclampsia, or chronic hypertension
  • carrying more than one child
  • age (over 40)
  • assistive technology (such as IVF)

Unhealthy lifestyle choices may lead to high blood pressure during pregnancy. Being overweight or obese, or failing to stay active, are major risk factors for high blood pressure.

Women that are experiencing first pregnancy are also more likely to have high blood pressure. Fortunately, the following pregnancies with the same partner will have a lower chance of this condition.

Women carrying more than one child are more likely to develop hypertension, as their body is under additional stress from the pregnancy. Maternal age is also a factor, with pregnant women over the age of 40 being more at risk.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, using assistive technologies (such as IVF) during the conception process can increase chances of high blood pressure in a pregnant woman.

Women who have had pre-existing high blood pressure are at higher risk for related complications during pregnancy than those with normal blood pressure.

What Are the Complications?

Complications

If high blood pressure continues after 20 weeks of pregnancy, there can be complications. Preeclampsia can develop. This condition can cause serious damage to your organs, including your brain and kidneys. Preeclampsia is also known as toxemia and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Preeclampsia with seizures may become eclampsia. This can be fatal.

Thorough prenatal care, including regular doctor’s visits, should be able to spot some of the symptoms of preeclampsia. Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

  • protein in a urine sample
  • abnormal swelling in hands and feet
  • persistent headaches

High blood pressure during pregnancy can also have an effect on the baby’s growth rate. This can result in a low birth weight. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, other complications include:

  • placental abruption (a medical emergency during which the placenta detaches from the uterus prematurely)
  • preterm delivery (defined as delivery prior to 38 weeks of pregnancy)
  • caesarean sections

How Will I Know if I Have High Blood Pressure?

Diagnosis

During pregnancy, your doctor or midwife should be monitoring your blood pressure during regular checkups. A reading higher than 140/90 mm Hg will indicate that there’s a problem with your blood pressure.

Preeclampsia is harder to diagnose than hypertension. Your doctor will check for signs of protein in your urine along with high blood pressure if preeclampsia is suspected. Your doctor may also want to perform a “nonstress test” to ensure the baby is moving and has a normal heart rate. An ultrasound may also be done to check fluid levels and the health of the developing infant.

How Can I Prevent High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy?

Prevention

Common risk factors, such as obesity and a history of high blood pressure, can be minimized through diet and exercise. Of course, during pregnancy, it is inevitable that you will gain some weight. It is recommended that pregnant women consult with their doctors to identify a weight gain target that is healthy for them.

The best dietary guidelines for pregnant women vary from person to person. Speak with a nutritionist that will keep your specific height and weight in mind when creating a nutrition plan for you. 

The NHLBI emphasizes that it’s important to take preventive measures to help lessen your risk of high blood pressure. You should steer clear of smoking and drinking alcohol, both of which have been known to raise blood pressure.

Medications

Treatment

Some traditional blood pressure medications can cause problems in pregnant women. 

According to Mayo Clinic, these medications for lowering blood pressure should be avoided when you are pregnant:

  • ACE inhibitors
  • renin inhibitors
  • angiotensin receptor blockers

These drugs in particular will be passed through the bloodstream to the developing baby. This can negatively impact the infant’s health. These medications may also cause blood to thin. This can compromise the mother’s ability to carry the baby to term. 

Methyldopa and labetalol are both drugs that have been deemed safe for use to manage blood pressure during pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor about how to control your blood pressure if you develop hypertension during pregnancy.

Managing Stress During Pregnancy

Results/Exams

Pregnancy can cause hormone shifts, as well as psychological and physical changes. This can cause stress in a pregnant woman. Stress can make the issue of high blood pressure harder to manage. However, when pregnant women find ways to manage their stress levels, blood pressure is less of an issue.

Prenatal yoga can be a great tool to manage stress during pregnancy. If yoga poses are too uncomfortable, simply listening to relaxing music while taking the time to meditate is helpful for the body and for the mind. 

High impact or extensive aerobic exercise is not typically recommended during pregnancy, especially if your body is not used to it. However, taking walks is a great way to relieve stress and stay active.

There are a variety of herbal remedies and supplements that promise to relieve stress. As with any supplement, be very cautious and consult your medical professional before ingesting these products. If your doctor gives the OK, decaffeinated teas can be an option for easing stress. Oolong, ginger, and blueberry can supply you with antioxidants to help you de-stress. Though it isn’t easy, getting enough sleep during pregnancy is crucial, so aim for six to eight hours a night.

Outlook

Outlook

According to Stanford Hospital and Clinics, hypertensive disorders resulting from high blood pressure are the second leading cause of U.S. maternal death during pregnancy.

In most cases, high blood pressure during pregnancy will subside almost immediately after the baby is delivered. Sometimes the blood pressure will remain elevated, in which case your doctor may prescribe medication to get it back to normal.

High blood pressure during pregnancy doesn’t commonly lead to serious problems. However, if it goes untreated, hypertension can become life-threatening for both mother and baby.

Take the time to understand the risk factors and possible causes of high blood pressure before you get pregnant — and practice preventive measures to keep your blood pressure down during pregnancy.

Read This Next

Preeclampsia
What is Hypertension in Pregnancy?
What Happens in Preeclampsia?
When Is It High Blood Pressure?
Metformin and Pregnancy: What Should I Know?
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