High blood pressure in pregnancy | What you need to know


Women who develop high blood pressure or gestational diabetes during pregnancy may face a greater risk of having these conditions again later in life, a new Dutch study suggests. The research found that women who had high blood pressure during pregnancy were more than twice as likely to have it later compared to women who didn’t experience this complication when they were younger. Women with hypertension during pregnancy were also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

An alarming one in six maternal deaths in South Africa are due to hypertensive disorders, according to Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the HSFSA, adding that there has been a 33% increase in high blood pressure problems during pregnancy worldwide. “Not only can hypertension have serious consequences for the infant during pregnancy, but it may also promote heart disease in the child during his/her lifetime,” he says.

A pregnant woman may have had existing hypertension before becoming pregnant, or it may develop in the second half of pregnancy. In both cases, if it is not detected and controlled, it can cause low birth weight or require early delivery of the baby. When it is accompanied by protein in the urine and swollen ankles, fingers and face, it is called pre-eclampsia, a particularly serious condition.

Hypertension – and especially pre-eclampsia – can cause the mom to have seizures, damage the kidneys, liver and brain, and increase the risk of stroke.

Who is at risk?

Factors that can increase the risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy include:

  • Hypertension during a previous pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Being younger than 20 or over 40
  • Having diabetes or other chronic illnesses
  • If you’re expecting multiples. Women in these groups should be particularly vigilant. Should you experience severe headaches and visual disturbances, urgently visit the doctor or clinic.

Regular blood pressure testing can go a long way to helping control hypertension and pre-eclampsia, so all women are encouraged to have regular checks – especially when considering falling pregnant and during pregnancy.

How can you prevent problems during pregnancy if you already have hypertension?

Control your blood pressure, and speak to your doctor or nurse when thinking about falling pregnant. Discuss with your doctor how hypertension might affect you or your baby, and how you should adapt any medication you’re taking. Continue to monitor your blood pressure regularly throughout your pregnancy, and eat healthily, limiting your salt intake. Be active, don’t smoke and avoid alcohol. Taking calcium supplements can also prevent pre-eclampsia.

Try to avoid getting hypertension or pre-eclampsia during pregnancy by ensuring that you are in the best possible health before thinking of falling pregnant. Maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and don’t smoke. Get early and regular medical care and follow all your doctor’s recommendations. Eat a healthy diet, including plenty of fruit and vegetable and daily dairy, and limit your salt intake. Also, take a calcium supplement as directed by your doctor.

For more information, contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (43278) or visit www.heartfoundation.co.za.


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