How does hypertension affect pregnant women?

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Hypertension is considered to be one of the most common medical problems during pregnancy, causing complications in around 2-3 percent of pregnancies

Each year, May 17, is observed as the World Hypertension Day. And while this day marks a dedication to its prevention and control, many people including expecting mothers across globe are quietly suffering from this lifestyle diseases.

In fact, experts considered hypertension to be one of the most common medical problems encountered during pregnancy, causing complications in around 2-3 percent of pregnancies. However, the effects of high blood pressure range from mild to severe.

"Although many pregnant women with high blood pressure have healthy babies without serious problems, high blood pressure in some cases can be dangerous for both the mother and the foetus. Women with pre-existing, or chronic, high blood pressure are more likely to have certain complications during pregnancy than those with normal blood pressure. Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy may cause maternal and fetal morbidity, and they remain a leading source of maternal mortality," explains Dr. Santosh Kumar Agarwal, senior interventional cardiologist, Kailash Hospital & Heart Institute, Noida.

He adds that the hypertensive disorders can be of 3 types and can affect the mother-to-be and the unborn child in the following ways:

  • Chronic Hypertension: A woman is said to be suffering from chronic hypertension when her blood pressure exceeds 140/90 mmHg before pregnancy or 20 weeks' gestation. "It can lead to intrauterine growth restriction, a condition in which the unborn child does not receive sufficient nutrients and oxygen through the placenta leading to a stunted growth and development. These babies typically have a low birth weight and are at a 50 percent increased risk of congenital malformations than those who are born to mothers with normal BP," he says.
  • Gestational hypertension or pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH): It is the development of new hypertension in a pregnant woman after 20 weeks gestation without the presence of protein in the urine or other signs of preeclampsia. "Hypertension is defined as having a blood pressure greater than 140/90 mm Hg. Gestational hypertension can cause Preeclampsia," he says.
  • Preeclampsia: It is a complication characterised by elevated blood pressure reading after 20 weeks' of gestation and a condition called proteinuria wherein there is protein in the urine. It occurs in 5% of all pregnancies. In preeclampsia the placenta receives less blood, causing the baby to be small for gestational age.
    Dr Agrawal says, "It is also one of the leading causes of premature births, and the complications that can follow, including learning disabilitiesepilepsycerebral palsy, hearing and vision  In the mother, preeclampsia can cause rare but serious complications like stroke,seizure,water in the lungs, heart failure, reversible blindness, bleeding from the liver and bleeding after birthing and placental abruption which can cause stillbirth."

Causes of hypertension during pregnancy

He says that there are many causes of hypertension during pregnancy. These are:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • History of hypertension during the first pregnancy
  • Smoking, alcohol abuse
  • Sedentary lifestyle with no or minimum physical exercise

“Apart from these, women experiencing first-time pregnancy, those above the age of 40 and users of assistive technology such as IVF are at high-risk,” he says.

Continue reading to know the psychological effects of hypertension on pregnancy.

Psychological effect of hypertension during pregnancy

Stress is an important trigger for hypertension and pregnancy causes hormonal shifts, which increase stress levels.

The pregnant woman often faces mood swings, suffers from anxiety and depression, which at times can lead to troubled relationship with other family members. Understanding that this is a passing phase and giving unconditional support can go a long way in ensuring a happy and successful pregnancy.

Ways to bring hypertension under control during pregnancy

High blood pressure is largely preventable through the adoption of lifestyle modifications in the early stages.

It is highly advised that women suffering from hypertension eat a healthy diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, reduce and manage mental stress through yoga, meditation and other relaxing techniques, limit the intake of sodium through the reduction of the salt added to food and eliminate trans fats from their diet.

A nutritionist can make a diet chart tailored to the needs and conditions of the individual. Getting adequate sleep for at-least 6-8 hours at night is very important. Regular blood pressure checks during and after pregnancy are crucial for the overall well-being of the mother and the child. Timely anticipation and detection of what is commonly known as a silent disease can reduce mortality and morbidity to a great extent.

Cautionary advice to expecting mums

Dr Agrawal, says, “High blood pressure or Hypertension during pregnancy in most cases subsides after delivery. It does not commonly lead to serious problems if managed well but if it goes untreated, it can become a life threatening issue for both the mother and infant.“

Thus, it is important that the doctor is consulted for understanding the risk factors and timely detection of high blood pressure at the very onset of pregnancy so that adequate measures can be taken to help keep the blood pressure normal during pregnancy.

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Written by

Deepshikha Punj