Normal blood pressure for pregnancy is usually below 140/90 mm Hg. Anything over that and you could be suffering from gestational hypertension, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy. Common causes include unhealthy lifestyle factors such as obesity, inactivity, smoking and drinking alcohol. However, you are also at risk if it is your first pregnancy, you have a family history of hypertension or you are above 40 years old, carrying more than one child, diabetic or suffering from kidney disease.
Hypertension in pregnancy must be carefully monitored. A strict diet coupled with regular medical checkups can help avoid complications such as preeclampsia and eclampsia. Preeclampsia symptoms include high blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy, protein in your urine and excessive accumulation of fluid. If left untreated, preeclampsia could further lead to eclampsia, a life-threatening condition that causes seizures during pregnancy.
How do I know if I have gestational hypertension? What are the signs and symptoms?
There are several forms of hypertension. Which one do you have?
- High blood pressure before pregnancy: This increases even more during pregnancy.
- High blood pressure only during pregnancy: This should return to normal after childbirth.
- High blood pressure during the third trimester of pregnancy (on the 5th or 6th month): This has a greater chance of leading to complications.
Gestational hypertension can be detected by your doctor simply by taking your blood pressure while you are resting. Once hypertension has been diagnosed, the pregnancy should be well-monitored. When necessary, the doctor may schedule an additional visit to get a better picture of the situation, taking a blood sample and doing an ultrasound examination and a Doppler scan.
Signs of possible hypertension in pregnancy include: edema (abnormal swelling of hands and feet), headache, dizziness, spots in front of your eyes, ringing in the ears, and recent significant weight gain. If you are not on the lookout for these signs, hypertension may go unnoticed and untreated.
Are there women who are more prone to gestational hypertension than others?
Gestational hypertension most frequently affects young women who are pregnant for the first time or carrying twins. Other risk factors to be aware of: obesity, personal or family history of hypertension, diabetes, etc.
What are the possible effects to my baby? What are the risks involved? How will it affect my health?
Risks to the baby are: chronic fetal suffering, growth retardation, low birth weight, premature birth. But if hypertension is addressed early on, these risks can be considerably reduced.
For the mother, the risks are: kidney or liver failure and stroke. If the protein levels in the urine increase along with the sudden appearance of edema, hypertension becomes a serious problem known as preeclampsia or pregnancy-related toxaemia.
The final stage is eclampsia, a type of violent epileptic fit which may result in a coma. Fortunately, these cases are very rare these days as hypertension can now be carefully monitored.
If you have gestational hypertension, your doctor may recommend that you stop working and/or opt for birth by Caesarean section.
What can I do to manage gestational hypertension or avoid it completely?
To prevent complications, it is important to modify your nutrition and limit your intake of fats and sugars. If you are overweight, discuss this right away with your doctor or seek the expert advice of a nutritionist who will keep your specific height and weight in mind while creating a nutrition plan for you. Drinking at least 1.5 litres of non-carbonated water a day will also be good for you.
Don't worry! As long as you follow your doctor's advice, hypertension in pregnancy can often be managed and treated to protect you and your baby.
From the NESTLÉ Global Archive co-written with RND KATE PERALES