Gestational Hypertension: Can I Lower My Risk?

Your doctor may have told you that you're at higher risk for gestational hypertension. This occurs when your blood pressure rises in the second half of your pregnancy.

Blood pressure is high if it is greater than 140/90 mm Hg -- then the force of blood against your arteries is too great. And this can lead to more serious problems.

Why are you at risk and what can you do about it?

Why Am I at Increased Risk?

Gestational hypertension is fairly common in pregnant women. You are at greater risk if you:

  • Are having your first baby
  • Are age 40 or older
  • Are African-American
  • Were overweight or obese before you became pregnant
  • Are carrying more than one baby

What Can I Do?

Although there isn't a way to prevent gestational hypertension, you can do everything in your power to keep yourself and your baby as healthy as possible throughout your pregnancy. Healthy lifestyle choices can help control your blood pressure. And if you work closely with your doctor, you may help catch any problems early. That gives you the best chance for a healthy outcome.

See your doctor. As soon as you think you might be pregnant, see your doctor. And be sure to go to all your scheduled prenatal appointments. Discuss ways you can lessen problems from high blood pressure.

Your doctor will test your blood pressure throughout your pregnancy and may also have you monitor it at home. Your doctor will also check for other changes in your body. For example, protein in your urine could mean that you have gestational hypertension that is turning into a more serious condition, preeclampsia.

Take prenatal vitamins. Because a new person is growing inside you, you need more nutrients during pregnancy. According to some studies, two of these nutrients -- folic acid and calcium -- may lower your risk for gestational hypertension. Whether or not that's true, you should take a prenatal vitamin every day that contains these two nutrients, among others. This helps prevent birth defects and helps keep you and your baby healthy.

Eat healthy foods. Make sure the foods you choose are nutritious. Try to put fruits, veggies, whole-grain breads, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products on your plate every day. Ask your doctor whether you should lower your salt intake. And learn what a healthy weight gain is for you during pregnancy.

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Get moving. Exercise is one key to a healthy pregnancy. A small study showed that when overweight pregnant women walked on a regular basis, they also lowered their blood pressure. Just be sure to talk with your doctor before exercising. There may be limits on what you can do.

Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Doctors don't know if there is a safe amount to drink, so it's best to steer clear of it altogether. The same goes for smoking. Stopping smoking or drinking alcohol may not be easy. But, this is a sure-fire way to improve the chances for a healthy baby. If you can't stop on your own, get help.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on June 23, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "High Blood Pressure and Women."

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: "Pre-eclampsia and Pregnancy-induced Hypertension."

CDC: "Births: Final Data for 2009."

The Cleveland Clinic: "Prenatal Vitamins."

Hernández-Díaz, S. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2002; vol 156: pp 806-812.

Krotz, S.  Twin Research and Human Genetics, February 2002; vol 5: pp 8-14.

March of Dimes: "Vitamins and minerals during pregnancy."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy."

The Nemours Foundation: "Staying Healthy During Pregnancy" and "Pregnancy Precautions: FAQs."

Stutzman, S. Biological Research for Nursing, October 2010; vol 12: pp 137-48.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health: "Prenatal care fact sheet."

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