High blood pressure is a condition that can lead to dangerous complications while you are pregnant, and it’s especially concerning for women who have been diagnosed with chronic hypertension before the pregnancy or develop hypertension before reaching 20 weeks of pregnancy.
High blood pressure during pregnancy can be a sign of preeclampsia which is a very serious complication of pregnancy. Hypertension can worsen during pregnancy and lead to other complications such as kidney or liver problems, stroke or seizures. Your obstetrician will always closely monitor your blood pressure and will give you suggestions for managing your blood pressure while you are pregnant.
How High is Too High?
High blood pressure means that as blood pushes against the walls of your blood vessels, the force is too high on a consistent basis. When you have hypertension, your blood pressure is consistently elevated, meaning the heart and blood vessels are working harder and less efficiently.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Typically, stage one of hypertension means that the top number of your blood pressure reading is between 130 and 139, while the bottom number is 80 to 89. In stage two, the top number is 140 or higher, and the bottom number is 90 or higher. Anything 180/120 or greater is considered severe hypertensive.
During pregnancy, however, anything over 160/110 is considered to be severe hypertension.
What Are the Dangers of High Blood Pressure
Even when you aren’t pregnant, hypertension is not something to be ignored. High blood pressure can lead to increased risk of stroke or heart disease, in addition to other possible health complications. When you’re pregnant, the hazards associated with hypertension can include risks to your health and your baby’s health.
More specifically, hypertension during pregnancy can increase your risk of:
- Preterm delivery: In some cases, delivery must be induced early in order to avoid significant health problems for the mother.
- Preeclampsia: Hypertension is often associated with and categorized as a risk factor for preeclampsia, a serious condition that itself can cause significant health issues for the mother and the baby.
- Decreased blood flow: Hypertension can cause the blood flow to certain organs to become constricted. This includes the placenta. The resulting restriction of nutrients and oxygen can often cause a slower growth rate or in some cases even lead to preterm birth.
- Organ damage: Because high blood pressure can restrict blood flow to your organs, it’s possible for those organs to suffer damage as a result. During pregnancy, this can be especially hazardous. In severe and uncontrolled cases, this organ damage can even be life threatening.
For most people, hypertension is going to present no visible symptoms, so it’s often difficult to spot. This is the one advantage that pregnancy might lend to high blood pressure: as long as you’re keeping up on your prenatal visits and screenings, your doctors will be able to detect a rise in blood pressure.
Taking Charge of Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is sometimes brought on by unhealthy habits. There are certain lifestyle changes you can make that may help to reduce blood pressure. If you are a smoker, it is a great time to quit, and your doctor will be happy to help you work toward that. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and illicit drugs, and discuss any over-the-counter medicines with your OBGYN before taking them.
While you will gain weight during your pregnancy, take care not to gain too much. Keeping all your prenatal appointments will help you to keep a close eye on your weight gain and your blood pressure and will allow your obstetrician to continue to monitor your health as well as the health of your baby.
Your daily food choices should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat proteins and low-fat dairy. Use saturated fats and cholesterol sparingly, and limit the amount of fried food that you eat. Avoid salt and high sodium foods and try not to eat much fast food. Include foods that are high in potassium to help balance out the negative effects of salt. These foods include bananas, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, and spinach. Additionally, low-fat proteins (including plant-based proteins) might be a good way to encourage fetal necessary growth and keep your blood pressure in check!
Try to include some form of physical activity during your pregnancy if possible. Discuss what your options are for physical activity with your OBGYN. If you have developed preeclampsia, your doctor may recommend bed rest.
Take Blood Pressure Medications
If you are already being treated for hypertension before your pregnancy or if medication has been prescribed during your pregnancy, be sure to take it as prescribed. Your doctor will be monitoring your medication and will prescribe the best medication for you at the safest dose during pregnancy.
Learn Relaxation Techniques
Stress and tension can make high blood pressure get worse, so learn ways to calm feelings of anxiety during your pregnancy. Take time to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Learning breathing techniques can help reduce feelings of stress.
It may also be advisable to avoid stressful situations in the first place. In some cases, that might mean asking a partner, family member, or friend to handle particularly stressful chores. Avoiding stress may also mean taking a break from certain tasks at work.
It’s impossible for an individual to be aware of how their blood pressure “feels” at any given moment. So if you’re hypertensive, it’s important that you carefully monitor your blood pressure levels.
Your doctor will likely do this during your prenatal visit as part of routine screenings. But it may also be important to have a blood pressure monitoring device at home as well. Because your blood pressure will change throughout the day, it’s usually recommended that you test yourself regularly at the same time of day after similar activities. Always consult with your doctor or OBGYN on the best way to take your own blood pressure if that’s something you feel you should be doing.
You Don’t Have to Avoid Pregnancy if You’re Hypertensive
If you are not pregnant and you currently have high blood pressure, you don’t necessarily have to avoid thinking about expanding your family because of your hypertension. However, you will want to talk to your doctor or OBGYN about the best ways to manage risks.
During these discussions, you’ll cover how successfully you’re currently managing your high blood pressure. Medication, a healthy diet, and a good amount of exercise can help most women successfully manage their high blood pressure.
When you have hypertension, your pregnancy will be classified as high risk because of the potential for serious complications. It is important to do whatever you can to make healthy choices and to take good care of yourself during your pregnancy. Taking care of your own health is the best way to take care of your unborn child.