When you're pregnant, it's common to have high blood pressure. Up to 8% of pregnant women in the U.S. have high blood pressure, usually during their first pregnancies. If you first develop it when you're expecting, it's called gestational hypertension or pregnancy induced hypertension.
You should know that most women with gestational hypertension have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. But, high blood pressure during pregnancy can be a sign of other conditions that can be much more harmful. That's one reason why seeing your doctor early and often is so important in keeping you and your baby healthy.
What Is Gestational Hypertension?
Gestational hypertension occurs when your blood pressure rises in the second half of your pregnancy. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against artery walls through blood vessels. When this force measures more than 140/90 mm Hg, doctors consider your blood pressure to be high.
The good news is that, if you develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, it should go back to normal about 6 weeks after you give birth.
How Can It Affect My Baby and Me?
High blood pressure can hurt you and your baby. The effects can be mild to very severe. It may cause no problems. Or it may:
- Damage your kidneys and other organs
- Reduce blood flow to the placenta, which means your baby receives less oxygen and fewer nutrients
- Cause your baby to be born too small or too soon
- Put you at risk for possible heart disease or high blood pressure when you become older
In severe cases, gestational hypertension leads to preeclampsia, also known as toxemia. It can harm the placenta as well as your brain, liver, and kidneys. Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, a rare and serious condition that can cause seizures and coma -- even death.
Who Is at Risk for Gestational Hypertension?
You are at greater risk for gestational hypertension if you:
- Are having your first baby
- Were overweight or obese before you became pregnant
- Are age 40 or older
- Are African-American
- Have a history of PIH or preclampsia
Women pregnant with twins are also at greater risk.
Is There a Test for Gestational Hypertension?
Your doctor will test your blood pressure throughout your pregnancy. It's important to get tested because high blood pressure causes no symptoms unless it is extremely high. If your pressure is higher than normal after 20 weeks, you may have gestational hypertension.
If you happen to develop gestational hypertension, your doctor will check you closely for other changes, too. For example, protein in urine can be a sign of kidney problems from preeclampsia.
What's the Treatment?
No treatment is necessary for gestational hypertension although blood pressure medicine may be used. Your doctor will keep an eye on your blood pressure throughout your pregnancy. Working closely with your doctor can help ensure the health of both you and your baby -- whether or not you develop gestational hypertension.
Be sure to go to all your prenatal appointments to help your doctor keep tabs on your blood pressure and your overall health. You may need extra visits the closer you get to your due date.