Reasons for High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy

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High blood pressure is a problem during pregnancy because it can decrease blood flow to the placenta, causing developmental issues with the fetus, or cause the placenta to separate early. It can also lead to life-threatening complications for both mother and baby if it is not monitored closely.

  1. Types

    • There are three types of high blood pressure during pregnancy. The first is chronic hypertension. This is high blood pressure that develops before the 20th week of pregnancy or lasts 12 weeks after delivery. This means it was already a problem in the mother, but wasn't detected until pregnancy.

      High blood pressure that develops after week 20 of pregnancy is called gestational hypertension. Although it usually goes away after delivery, it can mean the mother is more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life.

      Hypertension during pregnancy, whether chronic or gestational, can sometimes lead to preeclampsia, which is a serious condition that can lead to serious or even fatal complications for mother and baby.

    Symptoms

    • Warning signs of preeclampsia, which usually occurs late in pregnancy, are: severe headache, changes in vision or light sensitivity, upper abdominal pain (usually under the ribs on the right side), nausea/vomiting, and sudden weight gain (more than 2 lbs. a week). Swelling is also a symptom of preeclampsia, but it is also a common side effect of pregnancy, so swelling alone is nothing to worry about.

    Treatment

    • Bed rest may be ordered for preeclampsia. Some common blood pressure medications, like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) and renin inhibitors, are not safe to take during pregnancy. Your health-care provider will determine the safest and most effective dose and monitor you closely. Do not adjust your dosage or stop taking your medication on your own.

    What to Do

    • If you have high blood pressure during pregnancy, there are several ways to stay healthy, along with taking your medication as prescribed. Eat healthy foods and limit your sodium intake. Take your prenatal vitamins. Monitor your weight gain: Too little hurts the baby's development, while too much puts extra strain on your heart. If you have high blood pressure before you become pregnant and are overweight, your doctor may suggest losing some weight before becoming pregnant. Avoid alcohol, smoking and drug use.

    Labor and Delivery

    • If preeclampsia becomes too severe late in the pregnancy, early labor via induction or C-section is indicated to prevent dangerous complications. If the baby is premature, steroids will be given to aid in lung development. You may need medication during labor to prevent seizures.

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