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High blood pressure in pregnancy
High blood pressure in pregnancy is a common medical problem that usually disappears once the baby is born. In some cases, it can signal a serious condition called pre-eclampsia.
Your blood pressure is a measure of how strongly your blood pushes against the walls of the blood vessels. It’s normally recorded in 2 numbers: the top one (systolic) is the pressure when the heart is pumping, and the bottom one (diastolic) is the pressure in between each beat.
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This condition happens when you only have high blood pressure* during pregnancy and do not have protein in your urine or other heart or kidney problems. It is typically diagnosed after 20 weeks of pregnancy or close to delivery. Gestational hypertension usually goes away after you give birth. However, some women with gestational hypertension have a higher risk of developing chronic hypertension in the future.
When you are pregnant, you are considered to have high blood pressure when the top number is 140 or more or the bottom number is 90 or more (described as “140 over 90”). High blood pressure is sometimes called hypertension.
Seek medical attention urgently if you have high blood pressure in pregnancy along with:
- a severe headache
- blurred vision
- sudden swelling of the face, hands and feet
- a pain in your upper abdomen (just below the ribs)
What are the types of high blood pressure during pregnancy?
Sometimes high blood pressure is present before pregnancy. In other cases, high blood pressure develops during pregnancy.
- Gestational hypertension. Women with gestational hypertension have high blood pressure that develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy. There is no excess protein in the urine or other signs of organ damage. Some women with gestational hypertension eventually develop preeclampsia.
- Chronic hypertension. Chronic hypertension is high blood pressure that was present before pregnancy or that occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy. But because high blood pressure usually doesn’t have symptoms, it might be hard to determine when it began.
- Chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia. This condition occurs in women with chronic hypertension before pregnancy who develop worsening high blood pressure and protein in the urine or other blood pressure related complications during pregnancy.
- Preeclampsia. Preeclampsia occurs when hypertension develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and is associated with signs of damage to other organ systems, including the kidneys, liver, blood or brain. Untreated preeclampsia can lead to serious — even fatal — complications for mother and baby, including development of seizures (eclampsia).
Previously, preeclampsia was diagnosed only if a pregnant woman had high blood pressure and protein in her urine. Experts now know that it’s possible to have preeclampsia without having protein in the urine.
What causes high blood pressure during pregnancy?
Any woman can develop high blood pressure during their pregnancy, but you are at increased risk if:
- you have had pre-eclampsia before
- close relatives have had pre-eclampsia
- you have a medical condition such as kidney disease, diabetes or chronic hypertension
- or you are older than 40
- you are obese
- you are carrying twins or more
Can high blood pressure affect the baby?
High blood pressure in pregnancy can prevent blood from flowing to the placenta. Because the baby doesn’t get enough nutrients or oxygen, they are at higher risk of being low birth weight or being born prematurely.
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