Pregnancy

You’ve probably heard doctors warning about the dangers of high blood pressure. I’ve talked before about the risk it can pose to your health. It’s true everyone should be careful with their blood pressure, but for some people, awareness can be particularly important. That includes if you’re pregnant.

If you have a history of hypertension yourself or in your family, you may want to talk to your doctor before you even try to get pregnant so you can properly assess the risk and take steps to alleviate it if necessary. For some people, high blood pressure may show up for the first time during pregnancy, and that means more monitoring and extra precautions to protect both mother and baby.

High blood pressure can make it harder for a baby to receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs from its mother. This can lead to it being born prematurely, with additional risks. For the mother, it increases the danger of serious conditions ranging from strokes to placental abruption. Not all blood pressure medication is safe to take while pregnant, so if you’re already being treated for chronic hypertension, you may need to change what you’re taking.

Gestational hypertension is the proper name for high blood pressure that develops in pregnancy, if there are no other symptoms. If you also have protein in your urine or develop problems with your kidneys or heart, you could have a particularly dangerous condition called preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia normally occurs in the second half of pregnancy, after 20 weeks. Very rarely, it occurs after giving birth. It’s more likely if you had chronic hypertension before you were pregnant or there’s a family history of preeclampsia. You’re more at risk if you have diabetes, kidney problems or lupus. Expecting multiple babies (such as twins or triplets) is another risk factor.

Not all cases of preeclampsia have symptoms. Sometimes it causes headaches; vomiting; blurred or other vision problems; swelling of the hands, feet and face; or pain below the ribs/in the upper part of the stomach. If you develop seizures, it may have progressed to eclampsia, which is potentially deadly.

In all cases, the best way to manage preeclampsia is to detect it early and monitor it carefully. It can’t be cured until the baby is delivered, which may mean you need to be induced before your due date.

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