According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure. Nearly 50 percent are women. Many are pregnant.
If you’re among those suffering from high blood pressure during pregnancy, you should be treated by a physician. Exams should start as early as possible and continue regularly so the condition can be managed and the risk to you and your baby can be minimized.
If you are pregnant and have not been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it’s still important to understand the condition because you can still develop preeclampsia—a condition related to high blood pressure that affects the body’s organs—after the 20th week of pregnancy. According to the CDC, preeclampsia occurs in about 10 percent of all pregnancies.
Who’s at risk for high blood pressure?
Your heart’s primary mission is to pump blood throughout your body. The narrower your veins, the harder your heart has to work to circulate blood to your organs and placenta, which provides oxygen to your baby.
In most cases, the cause of high blood pressure is difficult to determine, but physicians have identified several risk factors:
- consuming too much salt or alcohol
- genetics and/or a family history of high blood pressure
- diseases and disorders affecting the kidneys and thyroid
- growing older.
In addition, some women who are pregnant can develop preeclampsia, which results in high blood pressure during pregnancy, puts stress on the kidneys, and can cause headaches, vision problems, rapid weight gain and swelling of the hands and face.
It’s not known why some women develop preeclampsia. However, women have a higher rate of the condition if they are obese, pregnant for the first time, carrying more than one baby, older than 35 or younger than 20 years old. Preeclampsia usually goes away within six weeks of delivery, according to the National High Blood Pressure Education Program.
How does high blood pressure affect you?
High blood pressure can damage your kidneys and other vital organs. In severe cases, it can be deadly to the mother and baby. However, the vast majority of women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy experience a normal pregnancy and give birth to healthy babies.
How does high blood pressure affect your baby?
When a woman has high blood pressure during pregnancy, it is possible that her body is not delivering essential nutrients and adequate oxygen to the placenta, which protects and feeds the baby. As a result, the baby may not develop properly and be born at a lower than ideal weight.
How can you minimize your risk?
Women who plan on becoming pregnant can mitigate their risk by making lifestyle choices that promote healthy blood pressure levels—exercising, losing weight if necessary, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and consulting with their doctor about medications that can help manage blood pressure.
During pregnancy, it’s important for all women to work with their doctors to monitor and manage blood pressure levels by seeing their doctors early and returning for regular checkups.
How is high blood pressure treated while you’re pregnant?
High blood pressure during pregnancy—either chronic or preeclampsia-induced—may require no treatment at all for moderate cases. In more serious cases, you may need to be treated with medication.
High blood pressure during pregnancy can be a serious condition, but being aware of its risk factors and working with a physician can help improve the chances of a normal, healthy pregnancy.