Gestational hypertension

What is gestational hypertension and why does it happen?

Hypertension is defined as a blood pressure that is higher than 140/90. Severe hypertension is defined as a blood pressure that is higher than 150/110. Sometimes women who usually have a normal blood pressure will have hypertension during pregnancy. This is one of the most common complications of pregnancy. It happens in 5% of all pregnancies and 10% of first pregnancies. Women are at risk for gestational hypertension if they:

  • Are first time moms
  • Have sisters or mothers who had gestational hypertension
  • Are younger than 20 or older than 40
  • Had high blood pressure prior to pregnancy.

After week 20, hypertension can lead to pre-eclampsia, a severe condition that features high blood pressure and protein in the urine. To monitor you for gestational hypertension, your health care provider will check your blood pressure and measure the protein content of your urine. The results of these two tests will tell you whether you have gestational hypertension or are at risk for developing pre-eclampsia. If you have hypertension watch out for symptoms that may signal pre-eclampsia including, headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, or shortness of breath. If you have high blood pressure prior to pregnancy, or factors that increase your risk of developing or worsening high blood pressure during pregnancy, you may benefit from taking ASA. You should take two 81 mg tablets at bedtime; to be effective this must be started before 16 weeks of pregnancy.

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia is a potentially serious complication of pregnancy that is marked by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. No one knows exactly why it happens, but it is thought to start with improper development of the vessels in the placenta. The only cure for pre-eclampsia is delivery of the baby, so if you are diagnosed early in your pregnancy this can be a very difficult complication to manage.

How are gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia treated?

If you have high blood pressure, you may undergo a number of other tests to see if your organs are still functioning well (e.g., liver and kidney function tests). If you have severe hypertension, you may be admitted to the hospital for care and so your baby can be monitored. Depending on the severity of your hypertension, treatment may include:

  • Rest
  • Calcium supplements
  • Medications
  • Delivery of your baby (depending on how many weeks pregnant you are)