Left unmanaged this condition can be dangerous for you and your baby, so it’s important to understand your risks and how to manage them.
Blood pressure, also called hypertension, is the term for the pressure that your blood puts the walls of the blood vessels, especially the arteries. Blood pressure is measured using two readings: a systolic number and a diastolic number. The systolic number is recorded above (or before) the diastolic number—for example, 117/76. Blood pressure is considered high when the systolic number is greater than 140 and the diastolic number is greater than 90.
High blood pressure is a health concern for both men and women, pregnant or not, because it raises risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. When you’re pregnant, high blood pressure—whether you have it before you get pregnant or your blood pressure rises during pregnancy—can cause complications for both you and your baby. These risks can be managed, and not all pregnant women with high blood pressure will have complications, but it’s important to understand how your blood pressure may affect, or be affected by, pregnancy.
If you’re not pregnant and have high blood pressure, you may be at risk of certain complications if you become pregnant. In addition, some women with otherwise healthy blood pressure develop high blood pressure during pregnancy; this is known as gestational hypertension. You may be most at risk for complications due to high blood pressure during your first pregnancy: these issues occur in 6–8 percent of all pregnancies in the United States, about 70 percent of which are first-time pregnancies.
Potential complications of high blood pressure during pregnancy include:
- Damage to the mother’s kidneys and other organs
- Low birth weight
- Early delivery
- A dangerous condition called preeclampsia (see more below)
Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy and of complications due to pre-existing high blood pressure. Here are some important steps:
- First of all, if you have high blood pressure and are thinking about becoming pregnant, talk to your healthcare providers—they can help you find ways to control blood pressure, before and during pregnancy. Ways to lower blood pressure and maintain healthy levels include avoiding too much salt in your diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight (including losing weight if you’re overweight).
- Make sure you go to all your prenatal doctor’s appointments and discuss any concerns, included those related to blood pressure.
- If you’re thinking about having a baby and take medication for high blood pressure, ask your doctor about how these medicines might affect you and your baby. You may need to stop taking certain medicines or change the amount you take. Don’t make any changes, however, before you ask your doctor.
Preeclampsia is a serious condition related to high blood pressure during pregnancy. It also involves an increase in a protein in the mother’s urine during pregnancy and can be life threatening for the mother and the baby, as well as raise risk for low birth weight and premature birth. When preeclampsia occurs, it tends to start after the 20th week of pregnancy. Though the condition can’t be prevented, risks can be reduced when women are carefully monitored for signs—another reason to see your doctor regularly while you’re pregnant.
Reference: High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart/hbp-pregnancy.htm. Accessed September 19, 2014.