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High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jan 2020| Content last modified Jan 2020
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High blood pressure (hypertension) is when the pressure of blood in your arteries is too high. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body. Blood pressure that's too high stresses your heart and damages your blood vessels and other organs. Untreated high blood pressure can cause heart problems, kidney problems, or stroke.

What is high blood pressure during pregnancy?

A woman's blood pressure is normally lower during pregnancy. Blood pressure that's only a little high can be a sign of problems for you and your baby.

There are 3 types of high blood pressure during pregnancy:

  • Chronic high blood pressure: you already had high blood pressure before you got pregnant

  • Gestational high blood pressure: high blood pressure that starts after week 20 of your pregnancy and usually goes away a few weeks after your baby is born

  • Preeclampsia: high blood pressure late in pregnancy along with an abnormal amount of protein in your urine

You have a higher chance of getting high blood pressure during pregnancy if you:

  • Already have high blood pressure

  • Are overweight

  • Aren't active

  • Smoke or drink too much alcohol

  • Have a family member who had high blood pressure during pregnancy

  • Are having your first baby

  • Are pregnant with more than one baby

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure during pregnancy?

High blood pressure usually doesn't cause symptoms. You can't tell whether your blood pressure is high based on how you feel.

However, if you have preeclampsia, you can have:

  • Headaches

  • Swelling in your hands and feet

How can untreated high blood pressure affect me and my baby?

High blood pressure during pregnancy can cause serious problems for you and your baby.

Problems for you include:

Problems for your baby include:

Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia. In eclampsia you have seizures (when your body moves and jerks out of your control) and sometimes blood and liver problems. These problems can be life-threatening to you and your baby.

How can doctors tell if I have high blood pressure during pregnancy?

Doctors will take your blood pressure (using a blood pressure cuff) at every doctor visit. You have high blood pressure if your blood pressure is at or above 140/90.

In addition, doctors will test your urine for protein to see if you have preeclampsia.

How do doctors treat high blood pressure during pregnancy?

Doctors will:

  • Give you blood pressure medicine

  • Teach you to check your blood pressure at home

  • Do tests to see how well your kidneys and liver are working

  • Do ultrasounds to see how your baby is growing

  • Deliver your baby early if you have severe preeclampsia

If you have high to very high blood pressure, doctors will have you rest in bed and may deliver your baby a little early (at 37 to 39 weeks).

If you have very high blood pressure (180/110 or higher), your doctor may put you in the hospital for treatment during the last months of your pregnancy.

Although high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy may go away once your baby is born, you may get chronic high blood pressure later in life.

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