Now that you're pregnant, you've probably noticed that health professionals have taken a sudden, intense interest in your blood pressure. You can hardly drive past the clinic without somebody flagging you down for a quick checkup. You might get tired of having that cuff wrapped around your arm, but all of those blood pressure measurements are completely necessary. Your blood pressure is one of the most important vital signs of your pregnancy.
Blood pressure often drops during the first half of a pregnancy, but after that, in some cases, it can go on a potentially dangerous climb. Any marked increase in blood pressure can be a serious threat to your pregnancy. The blood vessels throughout your body -- including the ones in the umbilical cord -- will tighten, making it more difficult for your baby to get all of the oxygen and nutrients she needs to grow.
If you have high blood pressure, or develop it before your baby reaches full term, you're more likely to have a premature delivery and an underweight baby. If you have preeclampsia -- a dangerous condition that could endanger both you and your baby -- and don't receive treatment for it, the syndrome may progress to the point that it can trigger seizures or even a coma.
Who is at risk of getting preeclampsia?
About 5 percent of women have high blood pressure before they get pregnant, and 6 to 8 percent develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. Although no one is invulnerable, some women are at especially high risk. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, nearly 70 percent of all pregnant women with blood pressure problems are in their first pregnancies. Women who have a history of high blood pressure -- either during other pregnancies or before they got pregnant -- are also at greater risk.
Health care practitioners pay especially close attention to expectant mothers who fit the profile for preeclampsia. Women who've suffered the condition before are prime candidates to have it again. Other high-risk mothers-to-be include teenagers, women over 40, women carrying two or more babies, and women who were overweight before pregnancy. Finally, women are more vulnerable to preeclampsia if they already suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma.
With proper medical care, most pregnant women with high blood pressure have successful pregnancies and healthy babies. The key is to uncover the problem and get the proper treatment. So the next time you get anywhere near a health professional, get ready to stick out your arm for yet another blood pressure measurement.
March of Dimes. High blood pressure during pregnancy. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/188_1054.asp
Merck Manual. Normal Pregnancy, Labor, And Delivery: Physiology. http://www.merck.com/mrkshared/mmanual/section18/chapter249/249b.jsp
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. High blood pressure during pregnancy. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/hbp_preg.htm