The first pregnancy for a woman is considered to be the beginning of a new stage in her life. This beautiful phase marks her transition from a woman into a mother, and is filled with hope, wonder and joy. Being healthy and free of diseases during pregnancy is essential for a problem-free delivery and a healthy child.
However, sometimes, a woman may develop high blood pressure during her pregnancy, also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) or gestational hypertension. PIH occurs in approximately 10% of women globally and the condition may have serious implications for both the mother and the child.1,2
Through this article, we intend to spread information regarding PIH to all mothers-to-be, so that you don’t panic if such a situation arises. With proper care and timely treatment, high blood pressure is treatable.1
Categories of women at risk of PIH3
The following categories of women are at a higher risk of PIH:
- Women who are less than 20 years of age or older than 40 years
- First-time moms
- Women carrying more than one child
- Women with a history of kidney disease or high blood pressure
- Women whose mother or sister had PIH
What are the different types of hypertension associated with pregnancy?
The three common types of hypertension are:3
- Chronic hypertension: This type includes women who have had high blood pressure (more than 140/90):3
- Before pregnancy
- During the early weeks of pregnancy (before 20 weeks)
- After delivery
- Gestational hypertension: Hypertension that appears after 20 weeks of pregnancy and disappears after delivery is called gestational hypertension.3
- Preeclampsia: It is a condition seen in pregnant women with a history of normal blood pressure.1 After 20 weeks or so, the woman suddenly develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Women with either chronic or gestational hypertension also develop preeclampsia.3This type of PIH is observed in 5-15% of pregnant women in India4.
Symptoms of preeclampsia include:1
- Problems with vision
- Persistent headaches
- Difficulty in breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Swelling on the face and hands
- Sudden weight gain
Preeclampsia, if untreated, can have serious effects on the health of both the mother and the baby.3 It may also develop into seizures in women through a condition known as eclampsia that requires urgent hospitalisation.1
Preeclampsia may also occur after delivery and is called postpartum preeclampsia. It is a rare and serious condition.1
Complications caused by PIH1
PIH may lead to the following complications for women:
- Need for medicines to induce birth
- Separation of the placenta (the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to the foetus) from the wall of the uterus
High blood pressure in the mother may limit the oxygen and nutrient supply to the baby, which can lead to complications in the baby, such as:
- Birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy (pre-term pregnancy)
- Low birth weight1
What can women with hypertension do before getting pregnant?5
Your healthcare provider may give you instructions depending on your unique situation. We have listed below certain necessary precautions that every woman with high blood pressure can take before getting pregnant:
- Limit the intake of sodium
- If you are overweight, focus on losing weight for a safer pregnancy
- Exercise regularly as it helps in controlling your blood pressure
- Quit smoking and stop drinking alcohol
- Discuss all your medications with your doctor5
What are the treatment options for PIH?
Treatment depends mainly on the woman’s stage of pregnancy. If your healthcare provider thinks that your baby is developed enough, they may want to conduct your delivery at the earliest.3
Gestational hypertension may not be fully preventable, but many factors responsible for high blood pressure can be controlled by taking specific measures.3
Here’s a message to all the pregnant women out there: take good care of your health so that you and your little one are both healthy, and you can enjoy motherhood to the fullest.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure during pregnancy [Internet]. [updated 2019 Jun 20; cited 2019 Nov 20]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/pregnancy.htm.
- National Health Portal. Preeclampsia [Internet]. [updated 2016 Jun 01; cited 2019 Nov 20]. Available from: https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/gynaecology-and-obstetrics/preeclampsia.
- American Pregnancy Association. Gestational Hypertension: pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH) [Internet]. [updated 2015 Aug; cited 2019 Nov 20]. Available from: https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/pregnancy-induced-hypertension/.
- Upadya M. Rao ST. Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy. Indian J Anaesth. 2018 Sept;62(9):675-681. doi: 10.4103/ija.IJA_475_18 .
- American Heart Association. High blood pressure and women [Internet]. [updated 2016 Oct 31; cited 2019 Nov 20]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer/high-blood-pressure-and-women.