A rise in blood pressure during pregnancy can impact the health of mom and baby. Recently the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) provided updated guidance on maternal high blood pressure.
Monitoring Blood Pressure of the Utmost Importance
Monitoring blood pressure throughout life is important. During pregnancy, high blood pressure readings provide a fast warning to physicians.
Blood pressure readings measure the force that blood is exerting on the walls of your blood vessels, and the force that exists between beats of your heart. These measurements are called “systolic” and “diastolic” pressure, with systolic pressure listed above diastolic pressure during a reading.
When anyone experiences high blood pressure, blood vessels can be damaged, leading to cardiovascular damage, heart attack, stroke, or other maladies. For women, there are several causes of high blood pressure that occur during pregnancy, including:
- Preeclampsia: Usually occurring after 20 weeks of pregnancy, preeclampsia is a dangerous condition that can damage internal organs and lead to fatal consequences for mom and her baby. Preeclampsia is a toxic reaction that a mother’s body can have to the presence of a fetus in utero. It can cause elevated blood pressure, swelling, protein in the urine, elevated reflexes and if untreated, possible stroke or liver rupture.
- Gestational hypertension: Also developing after 20 weeks, internal organ damage and protein in the urine are not associated with gestational hypertension. Usually abating after birth, gestational hypertension is likely to recur with additional pregnancies.
- Chronic hypertension: Because hypertension can have few symptoms, some women have high blood pressure prior to conception, or before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- Chronic hypertension with preeclampsia: As the name infers, this condition is a worsening of an existing high blood pressure condition. Women with chronic hypertension may develop preeclampsia, or dangerously higher blood pressure.
In addition to being a danger to mom’s health, high blood pressure decreases blood flow to the placenta, and can impact the growth and health of a fetus. Maternal high blood pressure can also trigger premature delivery or the dangerous condition where the placenta separates from the uterus prior to delivery, called placental abruption.
ACOG notes the rate of maternal chronic hypertension rose between 2000 and 2009, and there is no reason to expect that trend will not continue. Among other recommendations, ACOG suggests initiating daily low-dose aspirin between 12 and 28 weeks of pregnancy for women with chronic hypertension.
If you are planning on pregnancy, be sure your physician routinely monitors your blood pressure throughout pregnancy and labor. Your health, and the life of your baby may depend on it.
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