Some women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy – a condition called preeclampsia; sometimes also referred to as gestational hypertension. A woman’s blood pressure usually drops in the second trimester and then regularizes after the delivery. However in some cases, women develop high blood pressure in the latter part of the pregnancy.
This is a pregnancy complication that could have serious consequences because it can limit the blood and oxygen supply to the baby, cause premature birth or still birth. It could even cause organ damage to the mother and threaten her life.
Risk factors and causes of preeclampsia
Women who have high blood pressure before getting pregnant or those who have a family history (mother and sister) of hypertension or preeclampsia are more at risk and their pregnancies should be closely monitored. Women who are obese and those who have conditions such as PCOS or diabetes are also at higher risk.
It is thought that an inadequate network of blood vessels grown by the placenta in the walls of the uterus could be responsible for the high blood pressure. It could also be an immune reaction where a woman’s body responds to the baby, placenta or sperm.
Symptoms of preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is detected usually during a prenatal visit or checkup. Protein being detected in the urine is also a symptom of preeclampsia.
High blood pressure is usually asymptomatic; so it is important to detect high blood pressure. Regular blood pressure checkups at each antenatal checkup are important, so that if a pregnant woman has high blood pressure, it can be detected and managed effectively.
Rapid weight gain could be one of the warning signs. Women with preeclampsia may also experience swelling of the hands and face.
In some cases where blood pressure is very high, there could be symptoms such as vision changes, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, abdominal pain, and so on. A reduction in the amount or frequency of urination could also be a symptom of very high blood pressure. The condition may also cause the woman to have seizures.
Delivering the baby (and hence the placenta) is the only cure for preeclampsia. Meanwhile the doctor may prescribe medications to control the high blood pressure or to prevent seizures as a treatment for preeclampsia and may also consider birthing the baby early by elective C section.