High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

A common condition for expectant mothers is high blood pressure during pregnancy, and it can have a number of dangerous side effects on both the mother and the child. There are a number of blood pressure-related conditions that affect pregnant women, so it is important to understand the causes risks and the methods to treat or prevent those conditions.

What is High Blood Pressure during Pregnancy?

High blood pressure during pregnancy is a condition in which your blood pressure is above the recommended level – 140/90. Hypertension during pregnancy can be caused because of hypertensive issues that one may have even before becoming pregnant, or it can be caused by the changes your body undergoes during pregnancy. [1]

For women who are experiencing high blood pressure during pregnancy, the normal dangers of hypertension apply, as well as an increased risk of complications during delivery and the health of your infant. While blood pressure in non-pregnant individuals is often thought of as a long-term, chronic condition, in pregnant women, hypertension should be immediately addressed and properly treated.

What is Gestational Hypertension?

Many women develop high blood pressure after becoming pregnant, a condition known as gestational hypertension. Similar to gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension often appears near the end of a woman’s full term, and will often disappear in the days and weeks after delivery. However, having gestational hypertension can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure later in life.

Causes of Hypertension

High blood pressure during pregnancy can be caused by hormone fluctuations, poor dietary habits, obesity, and age. [2]

Hormone Fluctuation – The natural spike in hormones in the body during pregnancy can cause an elevation in blood pressure, which can be difficult to avoid.

Dietary Habits – If you already have a poor diet – one that is low in electrolytes, fruits, and vegetables – your risk of high blood pressure increases significantly during pregnancy. [3]

Obesity – Being overweight is one of the major contributing factors to hypertension, as this can cause natural inflammation throughout the body, leading to hypertension symptoms. [4]

Age – As we age, the blood vessels and arteries break down and become weaker, leading to more hypertension. Pregnant women over the age of 40 are at a much higher risk of gestational hypertension.

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

The risk factors for high blood pressure during pregnancy include smoking, family history, and multiple gestations.

Family History – If others in your family have struggled with hypertension, whether during pregnancy or not, it can raise your risk of high blood pressure, even if you follow the proper lifestyle and dietary advice. [5]

Smoking – One of the worst risk factors for hypertension is smoking, which has an astringent effect on the blood vessels and arteries, making it much easier for your blood pressure to creep up.

Multiple Gestation – Expecting twins or triplets means that your hormones are more in flux, as is the strain on your system, so women expecting multiples should not be surprised by a diagnosis of gestational hypertension. [6]

Symptoms of Hypertension

The most common symptoms of high blood pressure during pregnancy include rapid weight gain, headaches, abdominal pain, changes in vision, abdominal discomfort, kidney trouble, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, or problems with your liver function. [7]

More important than the symptoms to the mother, however, are the potential effects it can have on the baby, including low birth weight, premature birth, or placental abruption.

Low Birth Weight – If the fetus is unable to get proper blood flow and nutrients delivered on a regular basis, it can affect growth and development, and will often result in low birth weight. This can be dangerous for the child’s survival. [8]

Premature Birth – In serious cases of gestational hypertension, it can stimulate early labor, leading to premature birth and a whole host of health risks that includes the need for artificial respiration for the undeveloped lungs of the baby. [9]

Placental Abruption – The placenta is the organ in the body that feeds and protects the fetus as it develops. High blood pressure can cause the placenta to detach from the uterine wall, as well as vaginal bleeding, and the need for an immediate Caesarian section, depending on the severity of the condition and how far into the pregnancy a woman is. [10]

Types of Pregnancy-related Hypertension

The three major types of pregnancy-related blood pressure conditions are chronic hypertension, gestational hypertension, and chronic hypertension with preeclampsia.

Chronic Hypertension – This is a form of high blood pressure that is carried over from the time before a woman becomes pregnant, and is typically caused by obesity, lifestyle factors, and dietary choices. [11]

Gestational Hypertension – This is a form of high blood pressure that is often experienced by a woman near the end of her term. The exact cause is difficult to pinpoint, but it often disappears within a few days of delivery. [12]

Chronic Hypertension with Preeclampsia – Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure condition that pregnant women experiences, namely if they had hypertension before becoming pregnant. In this type of hypertension, they also experience protein in their urine and other common signs of pregnancy-induced hypertension. [13]

How to Lower Blood Pressure in Pregnancy?

The most recommended treatments and strategies to lower blood pressure include using blood pressure medication, changing your diet, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and getting regular check-ups.


Being pregnant doesn’t mean you should stop being active. Regular exercise can lower hypertension by strengthening the cardiovascular system and boosting the release of good hormones in the body. [14]

Alcohol and Tobacco

Both smoking and drinking can affect blood pressure, and while both are traditionally prohibited for pregnant women, it is especially important to avoid these vices if you are suffering from gestational hypertension. [15]


Although the use of blood pressure medication isn’t widely recommended for pregnant women, in some cases, doctors will prescribe it with careful consideration of your specific pregnancy needs.

How to Control Hypertension before Pregnancy?

Before you get pregnant, or before a diagnosis of gestational hypertension, you can prevent and control high blood pressure during pregnancy by delaying your pregnancy, using birth control, eating healthy, and consulting with a doctor before conceiving.

Healthy Diet

Eating more fruits, vegetables and foods that are high in potassium will help to reduce strain on blood vessels and arteries, while reducing the many risks of hypertension during pregnancy. [16]

Delay Pregnancy      

If you are obese, it can be safer to delay getting pregnant until you can lower your body weight to a level that won’t make hypertension such an easy condition to develop.

Birth Control

Birth control can suppress blood pressure, while also preventing conception, for those who want to lower their blood pressure and avoid the potential dangers of hypertension during pregnancy.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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