High blood pressure in pregnancy is a condition to keep a close eye on, because it can be problematic when not taken care of.
As you may know, the so-called hypertension is basically a medical condition in which the blood pressure is elevated, causing the heart to work harder in order to pump the blood around your body. High blood pressure is present if the higher or systolic pressure and the lower or diastolic one are each persistently at or above 140/90 millimetres mercury (mm HG), and it affects 10 to 15% of pregnant women.
If you want to know all the information regarding hypertension in pregnancy, so that you are ready to face it in case you have to, pay attention to the upcoming lines.
What causes high blood pressure in pregnancy?
There are several reasons why you could develop hypertension in pregnancy, though it's especially linked to unhealthy lifestyle choices. Being overweight or obese and having a sedentary behaviour, before and while expecting a child, are also associated with high blood pressure.
What types of high blood pressure in pregnancy can I suffer from?
Not all women have the same kind of high blood pressure in pregnancy, so it's good to distinguish between:
- Gestational hypertension: such a kind of high blood pressure develops after being 20 weeks pregnant. It can be diagnosed when there's no excess protein in the urine, along with no signs of organ damage.
- Chronic hypertension: it's the one in which the high blood pressure was already present before getting pregnant or that occurs before the 20th week of pregnancy.
You need to know that, besides these different types, high blood pressure can hit you at three levels: mild hypertension (between 140/90 and 149/99 mm HG), which rarely requires any treatment; moderate hypertension (between 150/100 and 159/109 mm Hg) and severe hypertension (160/110 mm HG or higher than that).
What consequences can it have for my health and the baby's?
High blood pressure in pregnancy may entail consequences, though they depend on how severe it is and how early it strikes. Fortunately, most pregnant women who develop high blood pressure during pregnancy just need to be extra monitored, and some of them may require induced labour or a C-section to give birth.
What If I already have high blood pressure?
If you happen to suffer from high blood pressure before getting pregnant, which, again, is known as chronic hypertension, you might have to take drugs to keep your blood pressure under control. However, you need to be careful, because some anti-hypertensive medication that you may take under normal circumstances may not be recommended during pregnancy.
Be sure to ask your doctor about your options before even conceiving your future child, so that he or she can prescribe you an alternative treatment, if needed. You may not have to take such drugs during the first half of pregnancy, since blood pressure usually falls at that stage.
What risks and complications does it pose?
Sadly, high blood pressure in pregnancy does pose serious risks that you should be well aware of. These include:
- Low birth weight: considering that your heart may struggle to pump the blood around your body, it's common to have a decreased blood flow to the placenta when suffering from high blood pressure in pregnancy. And what does that mean? Well, that may keep your baby from getting the necessary nutrients and oxygen to develop all the way, causing low birth weight. Preterm births are related to breathing problems for the little one.
- Placental abruption: If you develop preeclampsia, you will be at a higher risk of placental abruption, which occurs when the placenta detaches from the inner wall of your uterus before the baby is out of the womb. In severe cases, such a complication can be life-threatening for both you and your baby, due to heavy bleeding and damage to the placenta.
- Cardiovascular disease: again, preeclampsia may increase your chances of suffering from cardiovascular disease in the future, affecting the heart and blood vessels.
Yes, preeclampsia is listed as one of the most important complications in pregnancy. Not only can it trigger problems like placental abruption, but it can also lead to eclampsia, a severe pregnancy disorder that, when left untreated, can cause you seizures, coma and kidney failure, among other emergencies. That's why you need to watch out for preeclampsia symptoms, which are usually excess protein in your urine, severe headaches, changes in your vision, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and, of course, high blood pressure.
What happens during labour if I have high blood pressure in pregnancy?
As pointed out earlier, if you have high blood pressure in pregnancy, your doctor may suggest inducing labour before your due date to keep you from complications. Keep in mind that you'll have regular appointments with the doctor to have your blood pressure monitored so that he or she can rule out any further problems. If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia, you may need to take medication and have induction of labour even earlier.
How can I treat high blood pressure in pregnancy?
If you want to reduce hypertension, you'll have to make an effort to change your current lifestyle. Work out every day and, if you are pregnant, look for suitable exercises that don't pose any risks for you and the baby. Also, you'll have to invest in a balanced diet, keeping your salt intake low and trying garlic supplements (though their effectiveness has been put into doubt). Needless to say, you'll have to stay away from any bad habits, such as drinking alcohol, smoking or doing illicit drugs.
To conclude with, high blood pressure in pregnancy shouldn't alarm you and keep you awake at night. However, it's good that you put some energy into watching your symptoms to stay one step ahead of possible complications. Don't forget that your GP will check you regularly to ensure that everything is fine, but your actions also count.