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Blood pressure is a significant factor and medical condition in a healthy pregnancy. Not only is it the force that supplies blood to all of your tissues, but it also provides everything your baby needs until birth. For this reason, your provider should check your blood pressure with every OB (obstetrician) visit. Some women may develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, whereas others may have a history of it before becoming pregnant. Here is what you need to know about having a healthy pregnancy with high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is a measurement of the pressure exerted by circulated blood on the walls of your vessels. When your heart pumps blood, it creates pressure against vessels throughout your body. Indeed, the heart is usually the biggest contributor to pressure against your vessels. However, other factors can also increase pressure, including plaque formation in the arteries, weight gain, elevated stress hormones, and illness.
Blood pressure is assessed based on two measurements: systolic and diastolic pressure. The systolic pressure is the first reading (for example, the standard or normal blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg). Systolic pressure is the pressure on the blood vessels when the heart pumps blood out. The second number is diastolic pressure, the pressure exerted on the vessel walls when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood before pumping again.
Blood pressure is one of the vitals health providers use to assess your overall health. Doctors usually check your blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate at every health maintenance visit. With this information, healthcare providers can get a good picture of your current health and, if necessary, can track any changes in your body over time. During pregnancy, your OB doctor will likely also take these measurements, along with others, as they are essential for monitoring your baby and you.
A pregnant woman must keep her blood pressure healthy for a successful pregnancy. Blood pressure affects all vessels in the body, including the vessels that nourish the placenta and go through the umbilical cord. When blood pressure is too high (hypertension), it can harm your tissues, organs, and baby.
High blood pressure in pregnancy can lead to several problems, especially if left untreated. The following are the risks of high blood pressure in pregnancy:
- Decreased blood flow to the placenta
- Placental abruption - the placenta separates from the uterine wall before the baby is born, causing a risk of fetal death and maternal hemorrhage
- Decreased fetal growth due to intrauterine growth restriction (and consequently low birth weight)
- Premature birth
- Organ injuries, such as to the liver, brain, heart, kidneys, and eyes
- Increasing the mother's risk for future pregnancy complications like heart disease
Pregnant women may be affected by hypertension that develops sometime before conceiving or as a consequence of pregnancy. The various types of hypertension in pregnancy include:
- Chronic hypertension, which develops before pregnancy or in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy
- Gestational hypertension, is high blood pressure that develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy and includes a risk for preeclampsia
- Preeclampsia develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy and can cause organ damage to the mother's liver, kidneys, and brain.
Preeclampsia is a severe health problem for pregnant women globally. And in the United States, it is the cause of about 15% of premature births (births that occur before 37 weeks). If left untreated, preeclampsia can cause seizures in the mother and be life-threatening. Symptoms of preeclampsia include high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and elevated liver enzymes.
Now knowing how crucial healthy blood pressure is to a successful pregnancy, there are several steps a woman can take to keep her and her baby healthy with blood pressure problems.
See your OB regularly
The most important thing you can do is see your OB provider at regular intervals. Most women follow a strict schedule of visits that are initially every four weeks and then increase to two weeks, weekly, and even daily as they near their due date. If you have a condition like gestational hypertension or preeclampsia, your health care provider will likely want to see you more frequently.
At these visits, your doctor assesses your blood pressure, weight, heart rate, and respiratory rate. They also ask you if you have any headaches or are seeing flashing lights, which could be a sign of chronic hypertension. Additionally, your urine is tested each time for glucose and protein. When you are about 16 weeks, your health care provider will likely check your fetal heart rate and may start measuring your uterus to assess the baby's growth.
Take blood pressure medication as prescribed
Pregnant women may need to use medication to help control high blood pressure. These medications may include anti-hypertensives and also a low-dose aspirin for women who are at risk for preeclampsia. However, some blood pressure medications, such as ACE inhibitors, are unsafe to use during pregnancy. Therefore, it is essential to consult your doctor before becoming pregnant if you have a history of chronic hypertension before pregnancy.
Eat well for you and your baby
Studies show that certain dietary habits and choices can lead to increased blood pressure problems or may exacerbate factors that increase blood pressure, like diabetes and weight gain. However, focusing on wholesome foods like vegetables, lean meat, fruit, and whole grains can provide the nourishment you and your baby need for a healthy outcome.
Exercise as recommended
Physical activity is almost always a good idea. However, some women with high blood pressure in pregnancy may need to be cautious with certain physical activities to avoid elevating blood pressure further. Speak with your health care provider about what activity is safe for you.
Avoid harmful habits
Smoking, alcohol, and illegal drugs are all dangerous during pregnancy. Be sure to avoid these things to negate further complications.
It’s important to recognize that lifestyle changes are crucial for maintaining a healthy heart pre and post-pregnancy, especially for conditions such as hypothyroidism. We recommend always monitoring your levels with frequent blood tests to do your best to avoid your risk of preeclampsia, chronic hypertension, gestational hypertension, and more.
Your primary care physician will be the one to establish the cadence at which you should test. We also recommend reducing inflammation through food and lifestyle changes. Schedule a visit with a Paloma nutritionist today to see how you can optimize your health through whole-based food.