High blood pressure (hypertension) occurs when blood pushes against blood vessel walls with excessive force. Also known as gestational hypertension, pregnancy-induced hypertension develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure was previously normal. In most cases, the condition resolves shortly after the baby is born.
TGH’s renowned Heart and Vascular Institute includes a Women’s Heart Program as well as a Cardio-Obstetrics Program. Our multidisciplinary cardiac team provides highly specialized heart healthcare for women at every stage of life, including before, during and after pregnancy.
What Causes Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension?
The exact causes of pregnancy-induced hypertension are not well understood. Experts believe the condition likely results from a combination of factors stemming from the effects of pregnancy on the cardiovascular system. For instance, total blood volume increases by up to 50%, which naturally forces the heart to work harder. Also, pregnancy-related changes in the shape and structure of blood vessels can contribute to elevated blood pressure.
Other possible factors include:
- Abnormal placental development
- Inadequate blood flow through the placenta
- An atypical immune system response to the placenta
- Dysfunction of the endothelial cells that line blood vessels
Pregnancy-induced hypertension is common in first pregnancies, possibly due to the body’s response to the placenta during its initial exposure. Also, the risk increases with twins and other multiples.
What Are the Symptoms of Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension?
The hallmark sign of pregnancy-induced hypertension is elevated blood pressure, which is defined as a consistent reading of 140/90 mm Hg or higher during the second half of pregnancy. Because high blood pressure may not cause noticeable symptoms, blood pressure monitoring is especially important for pregnant women.
Other signs of pregnancy-induced hypertension can include:
- Swelling in the face, hands and legs (edema)
- Vision changes, such as blurred or double vision, light sensitivity, flashes or spots
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent headaches
- Severe pain in the upper right or central abdomen
- Decreased urine output
How Is Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension Diagnosed?
Because many of the symptoms of pregnancy-induced hypertension overlap with the normal symptoms of pregnancy, it is important for pregnant women to receive regular prenatal care and blood pressure monitoring from a qualified physician.
Usually, a diagnosis of pregnancy-induced hypertension is confirmed after two or more blood pressure readings taken at least four hours apart exceed 140/90 mm Hg. A physician may also order a urinalysis to check for protein in the urine (proteinuria), which is a sign of a severe form of pregnancy-induced hypertension known as preeclampsia. In the case of preeclampsia, the physician may order blood work to assess liver and kidney function.
How Is Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension Treated?
The goals of treating pregnancy-induced hypertension are to control blood pressure, manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications, such as preeclampsia. Common treatment strategies include:
- Antihypertensive medications
- Reduced sodium intake
- Proper hydration
- Bed rest
- Fetal monitoring
Pregnancy-induced hypertension can vary widely in severity, and some patients may require more aggressive treatments, such as corticosteroids to help the baby’s lungs mature, hospitalization and/or preterm delivery.
Benefit From World-Class Care at TGH
Due to the potential risks and complications associated with pregnancy-induced hypertension, it is vital for pregnant women to seek specialized cardiac care. Timely intervention and expert management are essential to ensure the safety and well-being of both mother and baby, making female-focused heart healthcare a critical component of a healthy pregnancy. If you would like to learn more, contact TGH at (813) 844-3900 to request an appointment with a member of our team.