Hypertension (high blood pressure) is serious, no matter when it occurs. But in pregnant women, it can be even more dangerous, leading to a life-threatening condition called “preeclampsia.” Any woman experiencing high blood pressure during pregnancy should consult with her healthcare provider as soon as possible.
What causes hypertension?
You may be familiar with the deadly condition of hypertension. Hypertension is a result of your blood putting too much force against the walls of your blood vessels. While it is normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day, the real damage is caused when it consistently remains too high. For starters, it causes your heart and blood vessels, which are key organs in the body, to work much harder–and much less efficiently. As the heart takes on this extra work load, the constant force damages the tissues inside the arteries, which in turn leads to your high cholesterol patching up holes that are caused. This indicates a condition called atherosclerosis. Eventually, these conditions can worsen to the point of causing heart attack and stroke.
There are conditions that are risk factors which may cause someone to have high blood pressure. But did you know that pregnancy can be a risk factor too? Pregnant women who are pregnant for the first time, have other female relatives who have had this condition, are carrying more than one baby at a time, are younger than 20 and older than 40, have had high blood pressure before being pregnant, and are obese are at risk for this disease known as preeclampsia. Like many diseases, the symptoms of preeclampsia can be mild to severe in some cases. Mild preeclampsia involves high blood pressure, water retention, and signs of protein found in the urine. More severe preeclampsia can involve headaches, fatigue, urinating small amounts, bruising easily, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, inability to tolerate bright light, and pain in the upper right abdomen. The diagnosis usually comes about during the 20th week of pregnancy, and statistically, while it only occurs in between 2 to 5 percent of pregnant women, it is a major killer.
Who is at risk?
What can women do to prevent this? Unfortunately, not much. However, there are dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to greatly reduce your risk, even if not eliminate it completely. A major recommendation is to reduce the amount of salt in your diet, similar to advice given to patients diagnosed with standard hypertension. Additionally, garlic may also help to reduce blood pressure that is already high. General health recommendations include not eating a lot of junk or fried foods and getting in 6-8 glasses of water a day.
In the medication realm, if your doctor decides that you have certain risk factors, you may be put on a low dose of aspirin, starting at week 12 of pregnancy. And if you have a calcium deficiency, your doctor may recommend a supplement; however, this is not common among women in the US. Recommended lifestyle changes can include getting enough rest, regularly exercising, and keeping your feet elevated. In addition, the common-sense pregnancy advice of avoiding alcohol and caffeine applies here too, because they both can raise your blood pressure.
There may not be much that you can do to prevent yourself completely from getting preeclampsia during pregnancy. However, if you think you’re at risk, speak to your doctor to come up with a plan to make that risk much lower.