High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is pretty common during pregnancy, but can also pose some health risks. Because of this, it’s important for women and their providers to keep a close watch on blood pressure throughout the course of pregnancy. Women with hypertension during pregnancy need to take special precautions to ensure that their healthcare providers know what is going on in their bodies at all times.
The difference between normal blood pressure and high blood pressure
The heart contracts in order to pump blood throughout the body. Blood pressure is the measurement of how much force the blood exerts on an individual’s blood pressure walls every time the heart contracts. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, or elevated blood pressure is diagnosed in a person when the force that their blood exerts is greater than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
The different types of hypertension in pregnancy
There are a few different types of hypertension in pregnancy, depending on whether a person had hypertension going in, and if other symptoms develop.
- Gestational hypertension describes high blood pressure that develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the absence of symptoms, protein in the urine, and abnormal laboratory results.
- Chronic hypertension is high blood pressure that is diagnosed before pregnancy or before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Preeclampsia is a condition diagnosed by elevated blood pressure and other possible symptoms or abnormal laboratory results. Preeclampsia can develop in both women with gestational hypertension or those with chronic hypertension.
How high blood pressure impacts pregnancy
High blood pressure during pregnancy can negatively affect the mother’s kidneys and liver. It can also increase her risk for strokes and heart failure, and cause the placenta to function abnormally, resulting in fetal complications such as growth restriction and decreased amniotic fluid. Sometimes, it can also cause placental abruption, which is a dangerous condition in which the placenta prematurely separates from the uterine wall resulting in bleeding and possibly labor.
Women with high blood pressure are more likely to deliver preterm and via C-section. Hypertension can cause serious damage to a woman’s organs, especially the kidneys, and it makes her more susceptible to preeclampsia.
Healthcare professionals need to pay close attention to women with high blood pressure to ensure that they are not showing any symptoms of preeclampsia, which is a more serious condition that high blood pressure can be an early sign of. Since no single test exists for healthcare professionals to diagnose preeclampsia, they have to closely monitor pregnant women’s blood pressure, urine, kidney and liver function, and symptoms.
How healthcare professionals watch for preeclampsia
Healthcare professionals usually watch for a quick rise in blood pressure that doesn’t drop afterward, as well as other abnormalities. Women also can and should watch for symptoms of preeclampsia which include persistent headaches, vision changes, very rapid weight gain, swelling in the face or hands, and right upper abdominal pain. You can find the Preeclampsia Foundation’s list of symptoms to look out for by tapping here.
How hypertension is treated
Some medications are safe to take to treat hypertension during pregnancy, like beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, and some are not, such as ACE-inhibitors. Healthcare providers can determine which is safe for the individual.
Before conception, if possible, women should discuss their risk for complications of hypertension in pregnancy and what interventions can reduce this risk with their providers. Women with a diagnosis of hypertension prior to pregnancy, who are being treated with anti-hypertensives, are also advised to review any medications they’re taking, to determine whether they are compatible with pregnancy.
A relatively new recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is to prescribe low-dose aspirin (81mg per day) to help women at an elevated risk of developing preeclampsia prevent the condition.
Hypertension during pregnancy is serious, so you should ask your healthcare provider any questions you may have about blood pressure and preeclampsia.
- “High blood pressure during pregnancy.” MarchofDimes. March of Dimes Foundation, Jul 2015. Web.
- “High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy.” NIH. US Department of Health and Human Services, 2016. Web.