Hypertension and pregnancy: Ensuring your health and that of your baby
1) What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure contributes to the development of coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.
Blood pressure is the amount of force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries. A person’s blood pressure is considered high when the readings are greater than 140 mm Hg systolic (the highest number in the blood pressure reading) or 90 mm Hg diastolic.
2) What are the effects of high blood pressure during pregnancy?
- Although many pregnant women with high blood pressure have healthy babies, it can be dangerous for the mother and the fetus.
- Women with pre-existing or chronic blood pressure are more likely to have certain complications during pregnancy than those with normal blood pressure.
- However, some women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy (often called gestational hypertension). The effects may be mild or severe.
- High blood pressure can affect the kidneys of the mother and other organs, which can lead to early delivery.
- In the most severe cases, the mother develops pre-eclampsia– or “toxemia of pregnancy ” that can threaten the life of the mother and the fetus.
3) What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is an infection that usually begins after the 20th week of pregnancy. It is related to increased blood pressure and protein in the mother’s urine (as a result of kidney problems).
Pre-eclampsia affects the placenta and can affect the kidneys, liver and brain of the mother. When pre-eclampsia is the cause of seizures, it is known as eclampsia.
Apart from the consequences caused in women, it is also a major cause of fetal complications. These include low birth weight, premature birth, and baby’s death at birth.
There is no real way to prevent this infection. However, most women who develop signs of pre-eclampsia are followed closely to mitigate or avoid related problems. The only way to “cure ” pre-eclampsia is to give birth to the baby.
4) Who is more likely to develop pre-eclampsia?
- Women with chronic hypertension (high blood pressure) before getting pregnant.
- Those who have developed high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia during a previous pregnancy. Especially if these conditions occurred early in pregnancy.
- Pregnant women under 20 or over 40 years of age.
- Those who are pregnant with more than one baby and the one who is obese.
- In addition, women with diabetes, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis are at risk for developing pre-eclampsia.
5) How is pre-eclampsia detected?
- Unfortunately, there is no single test to predict or diagnose the infection. The main signs are an increase in blood pressure and protein in the urine (proteinuria).
- Other symptoms include persistent headaches, blurred vision or sensitivity to light, and abdominal pain. Nevertheless, all these sensations can be caused by other disorders. They can also occur in healthy pregnancies
Regular visits to the doctor help to control your blood pressure and the level of protein in the urine. He can order blood tests to detect any abnormalities and monitor more closely the development of the fetus.
6) How can hypertensive women prevent problems during pregnancy?
If you are thinking of having a baby and you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor or nurse first. In addition, take steps to control blood pressure before and during pregnancy, and regular prenatal visits help monitor your baby’s health and yours.
a) Before getting pregnant:
- Make sure your blood pressure is under control.
- Lifestyle changes such as limiting salt intake, participating in regular physical activity and losing weight can be helpful.
- Talk to your doctor about how high blood pressure could affect you and your baby during pregnancy, and what you can do to prevent or reduce problems.
- If you are taking medication for your blood pressure, ask your doctor if you need to change the amount you take or stop taking it during pregnancy.
b) During your pregnancy:
- Make regular prenatal visits
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco
- Talk to your doctor about any over-the-counter medications you are taking or plan to take.