High Blood Pressure and Pregnancy

High blood pressure can complicate pregnancy. If left untreated, high blood pressure, or hypertension, may adversely affect the baby as well as the mother.

When not managed properly, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and the organs supplied by them.

Measuring Blood Pressure

Two numbers, such as 140/90 represent a person’s blood pressure. The top number (systolic pressure) represents pressure exerted when the heart pumps blood. The bottom number (diastolic pressure) represents the pressure present when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. OB/GYN physicians and other healthcare professionals consider blood pressure high when the systolic pressure measures over 140 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), or if the diastolic pressure measures more than 90 mm Hg. For example, doctors consider blood pressure of 150/85 (commonly stated as “150 over 85”) or 140/95 as high. When both numbers can measure high, such as 150/95, this constitutes high blood pressure as well.

People with hypertension may feel fine for years and unexpectedly have physical manifestations of the condition such as strokes, heart disease, heart attacks and kidney damage. Damage to the kidneys, from hypertension or other conditions, could encourage even higher numbers as kidneys play an important role in managing blood pressure.

When high blood pressure starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy, it could indicate a very serious problem called preeclampsia.


Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy-related health condition. Symptoms of preeclampsia include the advent of high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy along with other problems, such as protein in the urine.

Preeclampsia usually goes away after giving birth. In rare cases, blood pressure can remain elevated for up to six weeks after the birth.

Mother and baby can die from unchecked preeclampsia. It keeps the baby from getting enough blood and oxygen to his system and can harm the mother’s liver, kidneys and brain. Women with very bad preeclampsia can experience dangerous seizures: this is called eclampsia.

Causes of Preeclampsia and High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

Experts don’t know the exact cause of preeclampsia and the onset of high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Preeclampsia seems to start because the placenta fails to grow the usual network of blood vessels deep in the wall of the uterus. This leads to poor blood flow in the placenta.

Preeclampsia may run in families. If your mother suffered from preeclampsia while she was pregnant with you or your siblings, you have a higher chance of getting it during pregnancy. You also have a higher chance of getting it if the mother of your baby’s father had preeclampsia.

Having high blood pressure at the time you become pregnant also raises your chances of suffering from preeclampsia during pregnancy. Health issues and problems that can lead to high blood pressure, such as obesity and diabetes, could raise your risk of preeclampsia as well.

Symptoms of Preeclampsia

High blood pressure sometimes causes headaches, shortness of breath or changes in vision.

Mild preeclampsia usually doesn’t cause symptoms. But moderate to severe preeclampsia can cause rapid weight gain and sudden swelling of the hands and face. Severe preeclampsia causes symptoms of organ trouble, such as a very bad headache and trouble seeing and breathing. It can also result belly pain and decreased urination.

Diagnosis of High Blood Pressure and Preeclampsia

OB/GYN doctors usually notice high blood pressure or preeclampsia during a prenatal visit. This should encourage you to keep all prenatal appointments. A qualified healthcare professional must check your blood pressure often during pregnancy. This creates a baseline so that your doctor will notice a sudden increase in blood pressure. The doctor will also order a urine test to check for protein — another sign of preeclampsia.

If you have high blood pressure, tell your doctor immediately if you have a headache or belly pain. These signs of preeclampsia can occur before protein shows up in your urine.


Your OB/GYN may prescribe medication to manage your high blood pressure and prevent seizures.  You also may receive medicine intended to help your baby’s lungs develop and become ready for birth. Delivery of the baby represents the only true cure for the condition. Sometimes the doctor must deliver the baby early to protect the health of the mother and the baby. If this happens, your baby will receive care especially for premature babies.


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