One of the most common complications experienced during pregnancy, hypertension is known to affect nearly 3% of all pregnancies, with the risks increasing substantially in the case of first time pregnancies. Hypertension or High Blood Pressure as it is simply put is said to occur when the blood flowing in the body starts to exert excess pressure on the arteries that contain them.
A blood pressure reading of more than 140 mm Hg would generally indicate hypertension in an individual. Although the exact cause of hypertension in pregnancy is not clearly known, studies indicate that surging hormone levels in the body during this period may have something to do with the increase in the blood pressure levels.
Types of Hypertension in Pregnancy
Hypertension in pregnancy can be classified into the following categories.
Pregnancy Induced Hypertension or Gestational Hypertension
In this case, the individual would start experiencing hypertension only after conceiving. The condition would arise during the first few weeks of the pregnancy and would gradually disappear after childbirth.
In this case, the individual would have experienced hypertension before her pregnancy and would likely contract the condition about 20 weeks before her delivery date. Like gestational hypertension, chronic hypertension would usually go down after a few weeks following the childbirth.
Preeclampsia or Eclampsia
Usually affecting a woman 20 weeks into her pregnancy, preeclampsia is characterized by extremely high blood pressure levels in the blood which can pose serious threats to the health of the mother and her child.
The condition is usually caused by the aggravation of untreated gestational or chronic hypertension and is also characterized by the presence of large levels of protein in the mother’s urine.
Risk Factors Associated with Hypertension in Pregnancy
Nearly all cases of hypertension in pregnancy are reported for first time pregnancies (over 70%). However, hypertension can also affect women who have successfully delivered before. The condition is said to be more prevalent in women who share certain risk factors like multiple births (like twins), late pregnancy (after 40 years of age), obesity (before conceiving), history of chronic hypertension (handed down by elders), history of hypertension in past deliveries, teenage pregnancy (below 20 years of age) and existing medical anomalies (prior to pregnancy) like lupus, diabetes, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and kidney diseases etc.
Adverse Effects of Hypertension in Pregnancy
Although hypertension in pregnancy is quite common and is not necessarily a cause for concern, extreme cases of the condition can cause several health related risks to both the mother and the fetus. While the condition can cause issues like kidney failure, kidney diseases, stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure etc. in the mother, it can cause problems like birth defects, premature delivery or low birth weight in the infant.
In severe cases of preeclampsia (also called as ‘toxemia of pregnancy’), the risks associated with the condition increase tremendously. Preeclampsia or Eclampsia can cause issues like miscarriages, still birth or neurological defects in the fetus while the mother would tend to suffer from conditions like seizures and multiple organ failures.
Detection and Diagnosis of Hypertension in Pregnancy
Hypertension in pregnancy is hard to detect. It would also be hard to diagnose the issue based on just one test. In most cases, hypertension in pregnancy would be detected by a condition called proteinuria wherein the urine samples of the mother would contain high levels of protein. This would usually be accompanied by other conditions like spiked blood pressure levels, abdominal pain, frequent headaches, increased sensitivity to light and vision problems etc.
Except for proteinuria and spiked blood pressure levels, the other symptoms mentioned above can occur in conjunction with other complications as well. Therefore it would be difficult to diagnose hypertension based on these symptoms alone.
Regular antenatal visits would enable the doctor to keep a check on the blood pressure levels and the protein levels in the urine during each visit. A significant change in either of these values would prompt more blood tests to check for signs of preeclampsia or eclampsia, along with fetal abnormalities if any.
Effective Ways to Treat and Prevent Hypertension in Pregnancy
Hypertension and its related disorders can pose potential risks to a pregnancy. However, the chances of a successful pregnancy and delivery with chronic hypertension or preeclampsia are equally bright. This could be achieved with timely and proper prenatal care in case the condition crops up during the pregnancy. Accordingly, here are some of the most effective ways to treat and prevent hypertension in pregnancy without posing any health related risks to the mother or the child.
Planning Regular Prenatal Visits after Initial Diagnosis
Once an individual has been diagnosed with hypertension before or during her pregnancy, it would be considered wise to plan regular prenatal visits to the doctor.
These visits would help keep a check on the blood pressure levels and effectively prevent the same from rising to abnormal levels (as in the case of preeclampsia).
Making Necessary Changes to One’s Lifestyle
Pregnancy can be considered as a defining moment in a woman’s life. In order to keep it that way, the new mother would need to make more than a few adjustments to her lifestyle to ward off unnecessary complications, including hypertension.
Hypertension during pregnancy can be controlled by adopting a series of lifestyle changes like losing weight (in case of obesity), exercising regularly and eating properly (for instance, limiting salt intake can keep the blood pressure levels from shooting up). Avoiding potential triggers like smoking and alcohol consumption can also treat/prevent hypertension in pregnancy.
Keeping a Check on Medications
Once diagnosed with hypertension, it is considered wise to visit the doctor and have a detailed discussion about the medications and drugs one can take for the issue during pregnancy. While certain drugs for hypertension can be deemed safe for pregnant women, others may cause serious side effects in the mother and the fetus (for instance, Angiotensin II receptors and ACE inhibitors are considered unsafe for pregnant women).
It is also considered wise to discuss the dosages of existing medications and note down any changes to the same. Existing medications and drugs can be continued unless advised otherwise by the doctor.
Although the above mentioned remedies can help treat or prevent hypertension in pregnancy, in certain cases where the symptoms intensify and start to pose threats to the pregnancy, the doctor would attempt a premature delivery in order to save the lives of both the mother and the child.