High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
(Preeclampsia and Eclampsia)

Understanding the signs, symptoms and causes of high blood pressure during pregnancy

High blood pressure is a risk to health for everyone, but it can be a particular concern during pregnancy. Pregnancy causes additional stresses on the body, which can increase blood pressure and lead to a number of corresponding health issues. Careful monitoring of blood pressure during pregnancy can help to prevent and treat some of these related problems, which is why you should talk to your pregnancy and prenatal care provider if you have questions or concerns.

High blood pressure pregnancy causes and concerns

Pregnancy produces additional blood volume to support the baby, which can lead to higher than normal blood pressure readings when you visit your doctor for periodic checkups.

If you experienced high pressure before you were pregnant, your doctor may wish to monitor your blood pressure readings closely, particularly during the later months of pregnancy. Your doctor will also want to know about any medications you are taking to manage blood pressure.

Gestational (the period of time between conception and birth) high blood pressure may occur, even if you have never had high blood pressure previously, and it can impact the health of your kidneys and your heart. It can also lead to stroke, if not appropriately treated.

In addition, chronic high blood pressure can lead to placental abruption, preterm birth and the need for a cesarean (C) section birth. Problems can even occur after birth, so continued blood pressure monitoring is important.

What you should know about high blood pressure during pregnancy

High blood pressure doesn’t always produce symptoms. That is why it’s important to make sure you and your medical provider carefully monitor your blood pressure during pregnancy to determine if you are staying at normal levels. If you took medications for high blood pressure before your pregnancy, check with your doctor to ensure these drugs are still safe to take during pregnancy.

High blood pressure and labor

One of the more serious concerns regarding high blood pressure and pregnancy is the complication of preterm birth. High blood pressure can lead to a condition called preeclampsia, which can cause ruptures of the placenta, stillbirths and the need to deliver the baby earlier than full-term.

In addition, low birth weight and other problems related to the blood supply to the baby can occur when mothers have high blood pressure. Managing your blood pressure properly can help you bring your pregnancy to full-term with a healthy baby.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a condition that occurs when a pregnant person’s blood pressure rises to dangerously high levels with signs of effects on other organs. Risk factors of preeclampsia include:

  • Age (being over 35 years old)

  • First pregnancy

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Kidney disease
  • Family history of preeclampsia (or history of preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy)

  • Diabetes or thyroid disorders

  • Being African American

With preeclampsia, the increased pressure and poor circulation of blood to the placenta can cause injury to the unborn baby. It can also cause injury to the mother’s organs. In rare, severe cases, preeclampsia can even cause complications that are fatal to both mother and child.

Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia

When monitoring a patient for potential preeclampsia, your doctor will look for a number of signs and symptoms—including:

  • Protein in the urine found during urinalysis or other signs of kidney problems

  • Vision changes, such as blurring, light sensitivity or loss of vision

  • Headaches that are unusual in severity

  • Pain under the ribs on the right side

  • Shortness of breath caused by fluid in the lungs

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Tests that indicate impaired liver function

  • Tests that indicate decreased platelets in the blood

  • Decreased output of urine

  • Unusual fluid retention in the body

What is eclampsia?

When preeclampsia is left untreated, it can progress to a complication called eclampsia. This condition is considered rare, but very serious. The symptoms of preeclampsia may also be present with eclampsia, as well as seizures, agitation and loss of consciousness.

However, some moms with eclampsia may present no symptoms. Eclampsia can cause dysfunction in the placenta that supplies the baby with blood, so it is a serious health issue that requires immediate treatment.

How to prevent high blood pressure during pregnancy

While some pregnancy risk factors are unavoidable, such as genetic conditions, you can take a more proactive approach to help manage your blood pressure during pregnancy by following your doctor’s recommendations. Also consider these tips:

  • Eat a healthy diet and limit your salt intake.

  • Stay within the weight guidelines set by your doctor.

  • Inform your doctor of any medications you are taking.

  • Use a home blood pressure monitor to keep track of your blood pressure from day-to-day.

  • Keep your pregnancy appointments with your doctor and inform them of any changes in your blood pressure readings.

  • Avoid smoking, alcohol and illicit drugs during your pregnancy.

  • Pay attention to how you feel after your baby’s birth and let your doctor know about symptoms that may occur.

If you are pregnant and experiencing elevated blood pressure levels, talk to your doctor about strategies to manage your blood pressure to keep both you and your baby healthy. With proper treatment, you can avoid many of the hazards associated with high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Contact our team of trusted doctors at All About Women today to discuss any questions or concerns.