Blood pressure (BP) measures the force that your flowing blood applies to the walls of veins and arteries — in other words, BP measures how hard your heart is working to pump blood throughout your whole body.
Blood pressure is measured using a manual or automatic sphygmomanometer (also known as a blood pressure cuff) and given as a two-number result, “systolic” and “diastolic.” One or both of these numbers need to be above normal on two separate occasions to be considered diagnostically elevated. High blood pressure (hypertension) can be especially dangerous during pregnancy, so it’s important to track it regularly.
High blood pressure during pregnancy
High blood pressure can be problematic for everyone, but when you’re pregnant, it could put both of you at risk. There are many possible risks of high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- High blood pressure and protein in the urine are the two main symptoms of the pregnancy condition known as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia can lead to other conditions causing internal bleeding, seizures, and strokes.
- High levels of consistent daily stress may lead to high blood pressure. Chronic stress, which is not managing well with normal coping mechanisms, is also associated with pre-term labor. While it is certainly not always possible to just “stress less,” tracking your blood pressure and your stress level may help you recognize when to seek advice from your healthcare provider. Mental health care is crucial for your overall wellbeing.
- Sometimes, high blood pressure can cause conditions that increase the risk of your baby being born prematurely. A placental abruption, when the placenta separates early and causes bleeding, is another possible complication of conditions related to high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Low blood pressure during pregnancy
Most pregnant people will notice their blood pressure drop a bit during pregnancy. Low blood pressure is generally not as serious as high blood pressure from a medical standpoint, but there are definitely some risks of low blood pressure during pregnancy.
Low blood pressure can result in fainting or dizziness, and taking a tumble is definitely something expecting moms want to avoid. So it’s important to know if your blood pressure is at such a low level that fainting or dizziness can be expected.
Tracking your blood pressure and any symptoms will let you know if your readings might be a bit low, and will allow you to identify a much needed day of rest and hydration.
Heightened risk factors
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, high blood pressure is 40% more common in Black adults than white adults. This is due to a range of factors including racism and bias in the healthcare system and socioeconomic inequalities and inequities. According to the Healthcare Cost Utilization Project, Black people are also about 60% more likely to develop preeclampsia during pregnancy than white counterparts.
Knowing your body and how it changes during pregnancy, especially your blood pressure, empowers you to seek care accordingly. Many people benefit from having an automatic blood pressure cuff at home. This allows them to check their blood pressure if they have concerns, and to learn about how daily rhythms impact their numbers. Monitor your blood pressure and communicate to your healthcare provider any concerns you may have.
Blood pressure levels can be an excellent indicator of the health of your pregnancy, and are a great way to monitor for certain complications like preeclampsia. Tracking your blood pressure along with other data can also help draw patterns to signal you need more support. You’ll know how your sleep, nutrition, activity or other behaviors may affect your blood pressure, and vice versa. As always, it’s important to let your healthcare provider know if your blood pressure is elevated.
- P Kristiansson, JX Wang. “Reproductive hormones and blood pressure during pregnancy.” Human Reproduction. Vol.16, No.1 oo. 13-17. Web. 2001.
- S Kulkarni, I O’Farrell, M Erasi, MS Kochar. “Stress and hypertension.” Wisconsin Medical Journal. 97(11):34-8. Web. Dec-98.
- “Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy: FAQ034.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/14/2015. Web.
- “High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy.” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, n.d. Web.
- “Placental abruption.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes, 1/12/2015. Web.
- Norton Healthcare. “Pregnant African-American women far more likely to have pre-eclampsia than white women.” Norton Healthcare. Norton Healthcare. May 16, 2018. https://nortonhealthcare.com/news/pregnant-african-american-women-pre-eclampsia/.
- Heart Disease and African Americans. Office of Minority Health. U.S. Department of health and human services. February 11, 2021. https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=19#:~:text=Although%20African%20American%20adults%20are,to%20non%2DHispanic%20white%20women
- Kathryn R. Fingar, Ph.D., M.P.H., Iris Mabry-Hernandez, M.D., M.P.H., Quyen Ngo-Metzger, M.D., M.P.H., Tracy Wolff, M.D., M.P.H., Claudia A. Steiner, M.D., M.P.H., and Anne Elixhauser, Ph.D.