Both men and women can suffer from high blood pressure. While it can be managed, it is still a serious condition. For women who are pregnant, high blood pressure can be a life-threatening condition for both her and her unborn child.
Blood pressure basics
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s take a look at some basic information. Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries, delivering oxygen to your organs and tissues. Outside of pregnancy, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, while pre-hypertension pressure falls between 120-129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic. When you are not pregnant, hypertension, or high blood pressure, is classified into two stages: Stage 1 ranges from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic, and Stage 2 is at least 140 systolic or at least 90 diastolic.
High blood pressure during pregnancy
Hypertension during pregnancy is diagnosed when values are repeatedly greater than 140 systolic or 90 diastolic. Even modest elevation of blood pressure during pregnancy can be particularly dangerous.
Preeclampsia, a version of hypertension that is unique to pregnancy, affects organs and endangers both mother and baby. Preeclampsia usually develops after the 20th week of pregnancy, with early-onset preeclampsia occurring before 34 weeks. Preeclampsia can also develop or worsen after birth.
The exact cause of preeclampsia is not yet known, but certain factors contribute to its development, including:
- Carrying multiple babies
- Hypertension before pregnancy
- Kidney disease
- Past occurrences of preeclampsia in other pregnancies
- Autoimmune conditions
Other risk factors include: being pregnant for the first time, a BMI over 30, a family history of preeclampsia, being 35-year-old or older at the time of pregnancy, being pregnant via IVF and being pregnant more than 10 years after your previous pregnancy. Black women are also at increased risk for pre-eclampsia development.
Preeclampsia can require early delivery of the baby and a prolonged hospital stay. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of maternal deaths are due to preeclampsia.
Talk with your doctor
Your healthcare or OB/GYN provider is a vital resource when it comes to hypertension of any kind. Even if you have not been diagnosed, it is still a good idea to discuss the issue with your doctor.
Here are a few questions to ask at your next visit:
- Should I change or continue my medication for high blood pressure during pregnancy?
- What can I do to keep my blood pressure under good control during my pregnancy?
- If I have to have an early delivery, are there local facilities capable of caring for my baby — such as a neonatal intensive care unit?
- What warning signs should I be aware of during pregnancy, and how should I follow up if develop symptoms?
- Should I take a low-dose aspirin during pregnancy?
While these concerns can seem overwhelming or even inspire fear, trust that your healthcare provider is well-trained to provide your care. It is vital that you and your provider have an open and honest dialogue about these issues.