Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a common medical disorder, affecting 20 to 30 percent of American adults. It tends to be a hidden or silent problem that usually does not cause obvious symptoms but can eventually lead to heart disease, heart attack, and other potentially fatal illnesses.

Modern health care has decreased the number and severity of complications due to high blood pressure; in fact, mild hypertension during pregnancy does not cause adverse effects for most women or their babies. Nevertheless, hypertension does complicate as many as 7 to 10 percent of pregnancies and is still one of the leading causes of death among expectant mothers. Severe hypertension increases a mother's risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. When a pregnant mother's blood pressure is severely elevated, oxygen and nutrients cannot pass as easily through the placenta and to the baby. As a result, fetal growth restriction, premature birth, and placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterus) may occur.

Prenatal care is important for all pregnant women. If you are pregnant and have hypertension, early prenatal care is invaluable. You and your doctor will discuss many issues during your pregnancy, including the use of anti-hypertensive medications and the possible need to deliver your baby prematurely.

The third trimester lasts from week 28 to the birth of the baby. This may be an exciting and stressful time for you and your partner. New issues may emerge. You may wonder: How will labor and delivery go? Will my baby be healthy? Will I be a good parent? Should I breast-feed? Am I ready for this? These may be similar to the fears you had when you first discovered you were pregnant, only this time they are more real. These thoughts are normal; it is okay to be a little scared. The important thing is that you learn as much as you can about what you can expect during these last few months of pregnancy, during delivery, and after the baby is born.

This area covers many of the concerns women and their partners have during the third trimester. You will learn about the office visits and screening tests you should have during these months, along with warning signs of complications you should watch for. This area also covers some of the physical changes common in the last months of pregnancy and ways you can relieve these symptoms and keep yourself healthy through diet and exercise. If you are concerned about a possible symptom or complication of pregnancy, talk to your doctor or health care provider.