What Is Gestational Hypertension?
Gestational hypertension is high blood pressure that forms during your pregnancy, often in the second or third trimester. It's also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension.
High blood pressure means the force of blood against your arteries is too high.
Normal BP is 120/80 mmHg. Hypertension means your BP is 140/90 mmHg or higher.
This condition can pose health risks for you, like having a stroke. It can also prevent your baby from getting enough oxygen.
In some cases, your doctor may need to induce labor so you can deliver your baby early.
Gestational hypertension happens in about 1 in every 12 to 17 pregnancies.
But you can manage it by staying in contact with your obstetrician. That allows them to check your blood pressure often and take steps to treat your pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Types of pregnancy-induced hypertension
There are 3 types of hypertension:
- Chronic hypertension. You had high blood pressure before your pregnancy, or your doctor detects it early, before your 20th week. It might remain after your baby is born.
- Gestational hypertension. You form high blood pressure after your 20th week of pregnancy or close to giving birth. It often goes away after your baby is born.
- Preeclampsia. You have high blood pressure that formed before or during your pregnancy. But you also have protein in your urine or other problems with your kidneys, liver, or other organs.
Preeclampsia is the most dangerous type of pregnancy-induced hypertension. It's vital to know it can appear suddenly. And both chronic and gestational hypertension can turn into preeclampsia after week 20 of your pregnancy.
Pregnancy-induced hypertension causes
Doctors don't fully know what causes preeclampsia or gestational hypertension.
But chronic high blood pressure is more common if you have the following conditions:
- Kidney disease.
- Obstructive sleep apnea.
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices like smoking or drinking too much alcohol.
Women who don't have routine check-ups might not know they have high blood pressure until their obstetrician detects it.
Pregnancy-induced hypertension risk factors and complications
There's no definitive test to tell if you will develop pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia.
But your risk is higher if you:
- Are pregnant for the first time.
- Have a BMI greater than 30.
- Have diabetes.
- Have kidney disease.
- Have an autoimmune disease like lupus.
- Have a family history of gestational hypertension.
- Are carrying more than 1 baby.
- Had preeclampsia or another hypertension disorder in a prior pregnancy.
- Are older than 35.
- Are a woman of color.
Make sure your doctor is aware if you have any of these risk factors.
You may need more frequent blood pressure checks in-office, or to use a home blood pressure cuff. This will help catch any problem early.
Gestational hypertension complications
High blood pressure puts extra stress on your heart and kidneys.
It also limits the amount of blood flow to your baby. That means they'll get less oxygen and fewer nutrients, which affects their growth.
Mildly elevated blood pressure often isn't serious and doesn't cause complications. It's important to watch it though in case it increases suddenly.
If your blood pressure gets very high and doctors don't detect and treat it, it increases your risk of:
- Heart problems.
- Kidney disease.
- Stroke, in which a blood vessel blocks blood flow to part of your brain.
- Placental abruption, in which the placenta separates from your uterus wall too early. It can cause severe bleeding.
- Fetal distress, which would require an emergency C-section.
Preeclampsia has more serious complications, which can turn deadly.
- Liver dysfunction or bleeding in your liver.
- Blood clotting problems.
- Red blood cell rupture.
How to prevent pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
The best way to prevent gestational hypertension is to manage any risk factors.
- Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight, especially before becoming pregnant.
- Managing other health issues such as diabetes, kidney disease, or autoimmune diseases (like lupus) that affect your heart or blood vessels.
- Telling your doctor about your family history of gestational hypertension or preeclampsia.
- Following up with your scheduled prenatal care so they can check your blood pressure at each visit.
Why choose the Magee-Womens Heart Program for gestational high blood pressure care?
- Have advanced training and expertise in heart and vascular conditions that affect women.
- Work with your obstetrician to diagnose, treat, and manage all types of gestational hypertension.
- Provide fast, effective care for your high blood pressure that offers the best outcome for you and your baby.
The UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is western Pennsylvania's only complete and specialized service for hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.
The program's cardiologists and maternal-fetal medicine experts have years of experience caring for new mothers. Their combined expertise means you receive the latest research, treatments, and best practices.