Mary Beth Fisher: What you should know about high blood pressure during pregnancy | opinion


When you find out you’re pregnant, there’s a lot of work that goes into prenatal care to make sure you and your baby are happy and healthy. However, there is one common risk factor that you should be particularly aware of, and that is high blood pressure in pregnancy.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can cause health problems at any point in your life. High blood pressure during pregnancy (HDP) is one of the most common complications you can have. HDP affects about 10% of all pregnant women and can vary in severity.

Types of HDP include chronic hypertension, gestational hypertension, and preeclampsia. Chronic hypertension is high blood pressure that a woman develops before pregnancy or during the first half of pregnancy, while gestational hypertension occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. These conditions can progress to severe high blood pressure, which can put you at risk for more serious complications.

Chronic high blood pressure, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and severe high blood pressure increase the risk of developing preeclampsia, a very serious high blood pressure condition. Preeclampsia usually develops after the 20th week of pregnancy and is often associated with organ damage in the kidneys, liver, blood or brain.

Left untreated, preeclampsia can cause serious or fatal complications for both the mother and baby, including preterm birth or eclampsia. Eclampsia is a medical emergency when a woman develops seizures during or shortly after pregnancy.

Preeclampsia prevention involves recognizing risks early and seeking treatment. If you think you have symptoms of preeclampsia, call your gynecologist right away. Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

• Swelling of the face or hands

• Persistent headache

• Changes or blurred vision

• Upper abdominal or shoulder pain

• Nausea and vomiting during the second half of pregnancy

• Sudden weight gain

• Difficulty breathing

Women who have had HDP, and particularly preeclampsia, may be at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure later in life. Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease in the future.

Here are some lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk:

• Quit smoking.

• Lose weight if you are overweight.

• Limit alcohol consumption.

• Do sports regularly.

• Reduce salt and eat healthier.

• Reduce stress.

For some, lifestyle changes may not be enough. Check with your doctor to see if they recommend controlling your blood pressure with medication.

MARY BETH FISHERDO, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Kentucky and Director of the Women’s Heart Program at UK HealthCare.

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