High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy
What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure in pregnancy, or hypertension, is how much pressure is placed on the walls of arteries when the heart pumps blood. Blood pressure is measured with two numbers, the top number (systolic) and the bottom number (diastolic) and reads 120/80, for example. The systolic number measures blood pressure when the heart pumps the blood to organs, and the diastolic number measures blood pressure when the heart retracts to fill with blood again.
High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause complications for the mother and the baby including preeclampsia, preterm birth and placental abruption.
Types of High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy
Even if you have not had high blood pressure before pregnancy, you can develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, called gestational hypertension. A blood pressure during pregnancy of 140/90 is considered high during pregnancy and a diagnosis of gestational hypertension is given. Severe high blood pressure in pregnancy is 160/110.
Types of hypertension in pregnancy include:
- Gestational Hypertension: High blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy, where high blood pressure was not chronic before the pregnancy began. This type of high blood pressure usually returns to normal soon after the baby is delivered.
- Chronic Hypertension: If you have had high blood pressure before pregnancy, or before 20 weeks into your pregnancy, you most likely have chronic hypertension.
- Chronic Hypertension with Superimposed Preeclampsia: High blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy can lead to preeclampsia; however, if high blood pressure was present before pregnancy and preeclampsia happens during pregnancy, the diagnosis is chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia.
- Preeclampsia: If high blood pressure occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy when no past chronic high blood pressure diagnosis has been given, and there is protein in urine and/or organs start to work improperly, preeclampsia is diagnosed.
What Causes High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy?
Because of the many changes and strains on the body that happen when pregnant, sometimes high blood pressure can occur in an otherwise healthy individual that has never experienced high blood pressure.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms in Pregnancy
In some cases the symptoms of high blood pressure during pregnancy may be subtle or go unnoticed. Because many changes take place when pregnant, it is important to know the symptoms of high blood pressure.
A blood pressure during pregnancy of 140/90 is considered high during pregnancy and a diagnosis of gestational hypertension is given. Severe high blood pressure in pregnancy is 160/110. A typical blood pressure is around 120/80.
Some signs of high blood pressure in pregnancy include:
- Severe headaches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Excess protein in urine (a urine sample is gathered at each doctor visit during pregnancy)
- Changes in vision
- Upper abdominal pain
Treatment Options for High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy
It is important to keep blood pressure down during pregnancy because of the potential complications for both mom and baby. There are several ways to reduce blood pressure during pregnancy including:
- Attend all prenatal checkups
- Take medication regularly, if prescribed
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid smoking, drinking and substance abuse
Stress can also be a factor on the body during pregnancy so it is important to avoid stressful situations, if possible, and be sure to get enough rest. Breathing exercises, prenatal yoga, baths and prenatal massages are all ways to help beat stress and take care of the body while pregnant.
Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy
There are many factors that can put you at risk for developing high blood pressure during pregnancy. Knowing these risk factors ahead of time can help you and your provider develop a treatment plan or prevention plan for high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Some risk factors for high blood pressure in pregnancy include:
- Being overweight
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Diet high in salt
- African American
- Diabetes or kidney disease
- A sedentary lifestyle
These risk factors put you at greater risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy, which can lead to pregnancy complications.
Some complications that can result from high blood pressure during pregnancy include:
- Decreased blood flow to placenta
- Placenta abruption
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Injury to your organs
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