Many women experience high blood pressure during pregnancy. This can occur even if you have never had high blood pressure before you were pregnant. Blood pressure that goes up during pregnancy is a sign of pregnancy- induced hypertension. This type of high blood pressure only occurs during pregnancy.
Arterioles are small arteries that can affect blood pressure. These are lined with a thin layer of muscle. When your blood pressure is normal this muscle is relaxed and the small arteries open so that blood can flow easily through them. If a signal from your brain tells your arteries to increase your blood pressure the muscle tightens around the aterioles and they become narrow. This narrowing makes it harder for your blood to flow resulting in a rise in blood pressure.
Chronic hypertension and pregnancy-induced hypertension can affect mothers-to-be and their babies in different ways. The baby may not receive enough oxygen and nutrients to grow. The mother’s organs many also receive less blood than normal. If you have pregnancy induced hypertension your blood pressure will return to normal after your baby is born. If you have chronic hypertension your blood pressure will stay high even after your baby is born.
Your blood pressure will be checked at each doctor’s visit. A blood pressure reading has two numbers with each separated by a slash. For example your blood pressure may read 110/80. This would be stated “110 over 80.”
The first number represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. The second number is the pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes. If you have a high reading your doctor may request that it be double checked. Blood pressure can fluctuate during different times of the day. If you are pregnant and your blood pressure reads 140/90 or higher this may be a cause for concern. Your blood pressure may drop a bit during the middle part of your pregnancy and rise as your due date comes closer.
Pregnancy-induced hypertension may lead to preeclampsia or toxemia. This usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy. If you have a sudden weight gain, swelling of the hands and face, and protein in the urine these may be signs of pregnancy induced hypertension. You may be at risk for this if you are pregnant for the first time, are African American, are older than 40, are carrying more than one baby, have diabetes or kidney disease, or have a family history of pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Call your doctor right away if you have headaches that are constant or severe, swelling in the face or hands, pain in the upper right part of your abdomen, blurred vision or spots in front of your eyes, or sudden weight gain (one pound a day or more).
If you believe that you are at risk or have any of the symptoms I mentioned above talk to your doctor.