Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries in your body. It is the force with which the blood moves through the blood vessels. Doctors and nurses measure blood pressure by putting a cuff around your upper arm. Then they listen to your blood flow with a stethoscope. High blood pressure is also called "hypertension."
What causes high blood pressure during pregnancy?
There are three types of high blood pressure in pregnant women:
  1. Chronic hypertension: A woman can have high blood pressure before she gets pregnant. Sometimes a woman has high blood pressure for a long time before she gets pregnant, but she doesn't know it until her first prenatal check-up.
  2. Preeclampsia: This condition can cause serious problems for both the mother and the baby. It only happens in the second half of pregnancy. It causes high blood pressure, protein in the urine, blood changes and other problems.
  3. Transient hypertension: Some women just get high blood pressure near the end of pregnancy. They don't have any other signs of preeclampsia.
Why is high blood pressure during pregnancy a problem?
High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause problems for you and your baby:
  1. Chronic hypertension: High blood pressure can make your baby grow too slowly. This can hurt your baby's health. Women with chronic hypertension are also more likely to get preeclampsia, which can be very dangerous.
  2. Preeclampsia: High blood pressure is not the main problem, but it is one of the main signs of this health condition. Preeclampsia can cause problems with your brain (headache and seizures), your eyes (blurred vision), your liver (pain in your belly), and your blood and other organs. It can make your baby grow slowly. If you get preeclampsia and seizures, you and your baby are at risk of dying.
  3. Transient hypertension: This condition does not cause any problems for you or your baby.
How is high blood pressure treated in pregnant women?
The treatment will depend on the reason for the high blood pressure:
  1. Chronic hypertension: If you are already taking medicine for high blood pressure, your doctor may want you to keep taking that medicine. If that medicine is not safe for the baby, your doctor might want you to change to another medicine or to stop taking medicine while you are pregnant. Your doctor will pay special attention to how your baby is growing. You might have ultrasound exams more often. You might have some other tests near the end of your pregnancy to make sure that your baby is healthy. Your doctor will watch closely for signs of preeclampsia.
  2. Preeclampsia: How your doctor treats this condition depends on how close you are to your due date and how you and your baby are doing. The only treatment that stops preeclampsia is to deliver the baby. If your baby is born very early, it may have serious health problems. But your doctor may want your baby to be delivered early if you or the baby are very sick. If your doctor thinks it is safe for the pregnancy to go on, he or she will watch you and your baby very closely until delivery. You will see your doctor often and get blood tests. Your baby will also get some tests to make sure he or she is healthy. You might need to stay home from work and rest in bed.
  3. Transient hypertension: This condition doesn't need any treatment. But it can be hard to tell this condition from early or mild preeclampsia, so your doctor will watch you very closely to make sure your high blood pressure elevation is not actually preeclampsia.

What happens to high blood pressure after delivery?
  1. Chronic hypertension: Your blood pressure will probably stay high after you have your baby. You will have to keep taking medicine for high blood pressure, watch your diet and exercise.
  2. Preeclampsia: Your blood pressure will go back to normal within 6 to 12 weeks after you have your baby.
  3. Transient hypertension: Your blood pressure will go back to normal within 6 to 12 weeks after you have your baby. But you are more likely to get chronic high blood pressure later in life.