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5 ways to reduce high blood pressure risks during pregnancy

5 ways to reduce high blood pressure risks during pregnancy

High blood pressure can be concerning whether you are pregnant or not, but knowing the facts and understanding how to reduce your risks is an important first step. We’re here to help!

In this post, we’ll share what you need to know about high blood pressure during pregnancy, and what you can do to care for yourself and your baby.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure refers to the amount of force pushing against your arteries as your heart pumps blood. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, occurs when the force on your arteries is too high.

Guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology define normal blood pressure as 120/88 mm Hg, and recommend that high blood pressure should be treated at 130/80 mm Hg. The full breakdown of the categories in the latest guidelines states:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
  • Elevated: Top number (systolic) between 120-129 and bottom number (diastolic) less than 80
  • Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89;
  • Stage 2 hypertension: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg;
  • Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120

What does high blood pressure mean during pregnancy?

Monitoring blood pressure during pregnancy is essential. Some people experience high blood pressure before becoming pregnant, while others may develop it during their pregnancy. In either case, it’s important to work with your doctor to understand the facts, risks, and what it means for the health of you and your baby.

There are several different types of high blood pressure that can occur during pregnancy:

  • Gestational hypertension: This type of high blood pressure condition develops during pregnancy, often after the 20-week mark. Usually, there are no other symptoms present. While this condition often poses no harm to you or your baby, it can raise the risk of future high blood pressure, low birth weight, or early birth.
  • Chronic hypertension: This high blood pressure condition can be noted before or very early on during pregnancy. Sometimes, a person may not know they have high blood pressure before becoming pregnant and going through prenatal exams and testing.
  • Preeclampsia: This serious high blood pressure condition refers to a sudden increase in blood pressure that usually occurs during the last trimester but may occur any time after 20 weeks. Preeclampsia can cause organ damage and can be very serious or even life-threatening for both pregnant people and babies. While the cause of preeclampsia is unknown, those with chronic high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, and prior history of pre-eclampsia are at higher risk.

What are the risks of high blood pressure during pregnancy?

High blood pressure can pose a series of complications during pregnancy, and it’s very important to understand your risks and work with your doctor to manage them. Risks can include:

  • Decreased blood flow to the placenta
  • Placental separation
  • Slowed or decreased growth of baby
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Premature delivery
  • Cardiovascular disease

How can I reduce the risks during pregnancy?

The best way to reduce your risk of high blood pressure complications during pregnancy is to take care of yourself. Many of the same strategies for reducing the risk of high blood pressure when not pregnant still apply for pregnant people.

  1. Focus on diet: Pregnant people should focus on eating a healthy diet, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and more. Work with your doctor, or seek the support of a nutritionist, if you need more guidance on what to eat while pregnant.
  1. Stay active: It’s important to stay active and keep moving when pregnant. Be sure to speak with your doctor about what type of exercise is appropriate, and follow their recommendations for physical activity.
  1. Continue taking blood pressure meds: Be sure to take all blood pressure medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
  1. Stay up to date with prenatal appointments: Prenatal appointments are essential check-ins where your doctor can monitor your blood pressure, along with other important metrics. Be sure to visit your doctor for these appointments regularly throughout your pregnancy.
  1. Follow pregnancy guidelines: Do not smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs while pregnant. Consult with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications.
  2. Take aspirin if recommended by your doctor: Women with any of the risk factors for preeclampsia including previous pregnancy with preeclampsia, twin pregnancy and chronic hypertension, African American and sociodemographic characteristics* should receive low-dose (81mg/day) aspirin to decrease their chances of acquiring pre-eclampsia. *African American women and other sociodemographic characteristics are at higher risk for developing preeclampsia.

Even if you do not have a history of high blood pressure, it’s important to take these steps to reduce your risk of developing it during pregnancy. Plus, a healthy lifestyle can decrease your risk of gestational diabetes and other issues.

Remember, your doctor is your number #1 resource during pregnancy. Be sure to ask them about your high blood pressure risks, and what they recommend for you personally. Find a Women's Health provider at Touro here.

Learn more about pregnancy care at Touro here.

About Dr. Stone

Dr. Ericka Stone

Ericka Stone, MD is a Women's Health provider at Touro.