High Blood Pressure and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

The OB-GYNs at Gainesville and Lake City's All About Women discuss the dangers of hypertension in pregnancy

We all know the importance of blood pressure readings as an indicator into our health. These readings measure the force your blood exerts against the walls of the arteries; high blood pressure (hypertension) can generally indicate an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

During pregnancy, blood pressure readings take on a whole new importance in protecting the well being of both mother and baby. That's because high blood pressure can lead to potential complications that can seriously affect maternal and fetal health.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, up to 8% of all women in the U.S. have hypertension during pregnancy. Here, we'll discuss the different types of hypertension, their risks and management.

Types of Pregnancy Hypertension

At some point in time, most people will have a high blood pressure reading. For your blood pressure to be medically considered high, it must read 140/90 or greater and be measured on two separate occasions at least six hours apart.

Chronic and gestational are the two types of hypertension you can have during pregnancy – it depends on when the hypertension developed in relation to the pregnancy that determines which type you have. When certain additional symptoms accompany high blood pressure readings, a woman has a dangerous condition called preeclampsia.

Chronic Hypertension
When you have high blood pressure prior to pregnancy, you are considered to have chronic hypertension, even if you are taking a medication that is successfully managing your blood pressure. Women who develop high blood pressure for the first time during the first twenty weeks of pregnancy are also considered to have chronic hypertension.

If you have chronic high blood pressure and are not pregnant yet, you should consider a pre-pregnancy checkup where you and your OB/GYN can discuss your hypertension, your medications, and your lifestyle factors before you become pregnant.

Gestational Hypertension
Women who develop high blood pressure in the second half of pregnancy (after week 20) and who do not have protein in the urine are considered to have gestational hypertension. This type of hypertension usually subsides at birth, but increases a woman's risk of developing high blood pressure in the future.

The Risks Of Hypertension During Pregnancy

Women with hypertension during pregnancy are automatically classified as having high-risk pregnancies.

If you have chronic hypertension or gestational hypertension, it is important for you to know that you still can have a healthy pregnancy and birth, but your condition must be carefully monitored by your OB/GYN. That's because hypertension has the potential to cause a number of problems, including:

  • Restricted fetal growth
  • Preterm delivery and/or cesarean delivery
  • Placental abruption
  • Increased risk of heart and kidney disease

Managing Hypertension Risks

Again, many women with high blood pressure have pregnancies and births without complications.

You can help manage the risks of high blood pressure by following some straightforward health advice:

  • Always keep prenatal appointments.
  • Make sure you take any prescribed medications.
  • Stay active during pregnancy.
  • Eat a healthy pregnancy diet.
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking and illegal drugs.

Hypertension and Preeclampsia

Hypertension during pregnancy also increases the risk of developing preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a serious blood pressure disorder, marked by high blood pressure readings accompanied with other signs, particularly protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can negatively affect all organs of a woman's body. Preeclampsia usually occurs in the second half of pregnancy, but can also occur in the postpartum period.

Besides high blood pressure, there are other risk factors for developing preeclampsia including:

  • 1st pregnancies
  • Very young mothers or those over the age of 40
  • A multiples pregnancy
  • Certain maternal medical conditions, including diabetes
  • Maternal obesity

All pregnant women, despite their risk, should know the signs for preeclampsia, which include:

  • Headache that doesn't go away
  • High blood pressure
  • Vision changes
  • Swelling in the hands, face, or eyes.

Unresolved preeclampsia can lead to death of mother and infant. If you experience symptoms of preeclampsia, call your OB/GYN immediately.

Find Competent Prenatal Care

The potential complications that can develop with high blood pressure during pregnancy highlight the importance of regular and quality prenatal care. At North Florida's All About Women, our dedicated team of OB/GYNs is able to help you successfully manage your high-risk pregnancy with confidence and peace of mind.

Begin to increase your confidence by learning more about our practice and our associated hospital, North Florida Regional Medical Center (and their Level II NICU). Contact us to schedule an appointment today!