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 sphygmomanometer (also known as a blood pressure cuff), and given as a two-number result, “systolic” and “diastolic”. Only one of these numbers needs to be above or below normal to be considered diagnostically elevated. High blood pressure (hypertension) can be especially dangerous during pregnancy, so it’s important to do your best to keep your blood pressure in the optimal range, which is generally under 120/80.
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. High blood pressure may not be the direct cause of a certain complication but can indicate a greater problem. 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. In rare cases, preeclampsia can lead to other conditions causing internal bleeding, seizures, and strokes.
- High blood pressure may often indicate excess stress. Stress has been linked to a higher incidence of miscarriage and overly intense pregnancy symptoms. While it is certainly not always possible to just “stress less,” tracking your blood pressure along with your emotions may help you recognize when to seek advice from your healthcare provider.
- Sometimes, high blood pressure can cause conditions that increase the risk of your baby being born prematurely. A placental abruption, when the placenta is separated early from the baby, is another possible complication of conditions related to high blood pressure during pregnancy.
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 women are also about 60% more likely to develop preeclampsia during pregnancy than white women.
Knowing your body and how it changes during pregnancy, especially your blood pressure, empowers you to seek care accordingly. 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 is a great way to monitor against certain complications like preeclampsia. Tracking your blood pressure along with other data can also help draw patterns between certain behaviors. You’ll know how your sleep, nutrition, activity or other behaviors may affect your blood pressure, and vice versa. It’s important to let your healthcare provider know if your blood pressure is consistently 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.