Normal Blood Pressure During Pregnancy: Levels and Management

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During pregnancy, a person’s blood pressure should stay within the normal range. Very high or low blood pressure requires medical attention.

According to American Association of Cardiology (AHA), a healthy person should have a blood pressure below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm HG).

The top number, or systolic, measures blood pressure as the heart contracts. The lower number, or diastolic, measures blood pressure when the heart is between beats.

Read on for more information on high blood pressure during pregnancy and the steps a pregnant woman can take to keep her blood pressure under control.

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A pregnant woman should monitor her blood pressure during pregnancy to make sure it stays within the normal range.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that a pregnant woman’s blood pressure should also be in the healthy range of less than 120/80 mm Hg.

If the blood pressure readings are higher, a pregnant woman may have high or high blood pressure. If high blood pressure occurs during pregnancy, it can indicate serious complications such as preeclampsia.

It is important to monitor and manage blood pressure throughout pregnancy.

Blood pressure is the amount of pressure that blood exerts against the walls of blood vessels with each heartbeat. A person can experience high or high blood pressure, or hypertension, during pregnancy. This is when the blood exerts more pressure than normal against the walls of the arteries.

According to AHA, people with untreated high blood pressure are at greater risk of developing a heart attack, stroke, or other health problems, such as kidney disease.

During pregnancy, high blood pressure is also known as gestational hypertension. Gestational hypertension occurs if a woman’s blood pressure is within the normal range during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, then increases to 140/90 mm Hg or more during the second half of pregnancy.

Risk factors

Experts don’t know the exact cause of gestational hypertension, but according to Cedars-Sinai, potential risk factors include:

  • have kidney disease
  • be under 20 or over 40
  • be of African American descent
  • have diabetes
  • have a history of high blood pressure
  • have several pregnancies

In most cases, hypertension goes away after childbirth.

Complications

The ACOG states that gestational hypertension can lead to complications or increase the risk of complications, such as:

  • preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy usually occur after the 20th week of pregnancy and can lead to problems with the liver, kidney or other organs
  • premature delivery.
  • restriction of fetal growth, which is a condition in which a lack of nutrients and oxygen can lead to decreased birth weight
  • cesarean delivery
  • placental abruption, which occurs when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus
  • stillbirth

Women who have high blood pressure before pregnancy should talk to their doctor or midwife. Their provider will likely monitor them and the fetus closely to make sure they are safe during pregnancy.

Symptoms

In some cases, high blood pressure during pregnancy may not cause any symptoms.

If high blood pressure occurs as a result of preeclampsia, common symptoms include:

  • swelling, especially in the hands or face
  • a headache that does not go away with medication
  • rapid weight gain
  • only able to pass small amounts of urine
  • visual disturbances
  • vomiting or nausea that starts or gets worse after the 20th week of pregnancy
  • vision changes
  • pain near the stomach or on the upper right side of the abdomen

Learn more about high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Any pregnant woman who has concerns about her health or fetal development should speak up or see her doctor or midwife.

People who have high blood pressure or are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure may want to monitor their blood pressure at home.

A healthcare professional can probably recommend the best blood pressure cuffs to use.

If home monitoring indicates that the blood pressure is too high or too low, contact a healthcare professional.

Any pregnant woman who shows signs or symptoms of preeclampsia should see a doctor immediately.

Learn more about preeclampsia here.

There are several ways that a pregnant woman can safely manage her blood pressure.

According to March of Dimes, a person can take the following actions:

  • taking approved blood pressure medications daily
  • monitor blood pressure at home
  • eat nutrient-dense foods and avoid salt, processed foods, and added sugars
  • go to all medical visits
  • avoiding drinking, smoking, and recreational drug use
  • stay active by walking or doing other exercises, unless otherwise specified

Women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy should follow all instructions from their health care provider. They should tell their doctor or midwife if they have any changes in their blood pressure or in their feelings.

It is not always possible to prevent high blood pressure, but a person can take steps to keep their blood pressure at normal levels before and during pregnancy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that a person take the following steps to prevent high blood pressure:

  • talking to a health care provider before pregnancy about any existing health problems and medications
  • getting regular and early prenatal care
  • make sure all medications can be taken safely during pregnancy
  • eat healthy food
  • exercise regularly

If a pregnant woman shows signs of low blood pressure, she should discuss the best course of action with her provider.

General treatment options for a person with low blood pressure include:

  • increase the amount of sodium in the diet
  • increase fluids
  • maintain light to moderate exercise
  • standing from a sitting or lying position slowly
  • avoid alcohol

A pregnant woman should maintain her normal blood pressure throughout pregnancy.

Women with high blood pressure, multiple or other risk factors are more likely to develop high blood pressure later in pregnancy.

High blood pressure during pregnancy is associated with serious complications of pregnancy, including preeclampsia and other hypertensive disorders.

If blood pressure becomes too high or too low, a person should speak to their health care provider to determine the best treatment.

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