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Pregnancy-induced Hypertension (Postpartum Hypertension)

What Is Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension?

Pregnancy-induced hypertension, or hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, are conditions that cause high blood pressure during pregnancy or recently new mothers up to the first six weeks after delivery. Pregnancy-induced hypertension, also known as peripartum hypertension, is an umbrella term that includes gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, and chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia. Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy affect up to 15% of women.

If you were diagnosed with high blood pressure before or during pregnancy—or experienced preeclampsia or gestational hypertension during pregnancy—you are at a higher risk for high blood pressure after pregnancy.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a serious, and often silent, condition. It can lead to medical complications and even death when untreated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy account for nearly 10% of all maternal deaths within 42 days after having a baby.

Conditions Related to Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension

High blood pressure (hypertension)

During pregnancy, the heart works harder to produce enough blood for the mother and baby. Problems with high blood pressure (also called hypertension) can occur before or during pregnancy, or up to six months after delivery. Left untreated, hypertension can lead to an increased risk of organ damage, vision loss, heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia happens in about one in 20 pregnancies. It is characterized by high blood pressure and high protein levels in the urine or organ damage, and can occur at any time during pregnancy or postpartum (see below). Women who have preeclampsia during pregnancy are at higher risk of developing postpartum hypertension.

Postpartum preeclampsia

In rare cases, preeclampsia can continue after giving birth, or it can even start in women who did not suffer with hypertension during pregnancy. Postpartum preeclampsia should be carefully monitored and treated -- it can lead to serious health problems and even death.

Gestational hypertension

Gestational hypertension is high blood pressure that begins in the second or third trimester. It usually goes away after the baby is delivered but can continue for weeks to months after giving birth.

What causes hypertension after pregnancy?

Doctors are not certain what causes postpartum hypertension. However, certain risk factors may increase your likelihood of developing high blood pressure after giving birth.

Breastfeeding is recommended for all women and does not lead to postpartum hypertension. Breastfeeding is safe if you’ve had a hypertensive disorder, and in fact may help reduce hypertension according to the CDC,. Most medications used to treat high blood pressure during pregnancy or postpartum are safe for use during breastfeeding, but be certain to discuss this with your doctor or midwife.

Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy Risk Factors and Complications

While any new mother can develop high blood pressure during pregnancy, these factors can increase your risk:

  • Having preeclampsia or another hypertension disorder during a prior pregnancy
  • Giving birth to twins, triplets, or more babies
  • Being a woman of color
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Having your first baby over age 40
  • Having a prior medical condition, such as diabetes or chronic high blood pressure

Complications

Like all high blood pressure disorders, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and related problems can lead to immediate and long-term medical problems. These include organ damage, vision loss, heart disease, seizures, stroke, and even death. But with early diagnosis, medical care, and lifestyle changes, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy  can be effectively treated and managed.

Why Choose UPMC for Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy Care?

The UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is western Pennsylvania’s only comprehensive and specialized service for hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

The program brings together cardiologists from the UPMC Magee-Womens Heart Program, part of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, and maternal-fetal medicine specialists from UPMC Magee’s Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine. With their combined expertise and years of experience caring for new mothers, these specialists offer patients the latest research and best practices.

Contact Us

You or your doctor can request an appointment with the UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program. Call 412-641-8870, option 0.

UPMC Magee Postpartum Hypertension Program
UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
300 Halket St., Suite 5102
Pittsburgh, PA  15213

What Are the Symptoms of Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension?

Pregnancy-induced hypertension, or postpartum hypertension is defined as high blood pressure (systolic pressure at or above 140 mm Hg and/or diastolic blood pressure at or above 90 mm Hg) after delivery.

Severe hypertension can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Seek emergency care if you are having any of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Vision problems (spots, flashes of light, blurriness)

Call your doctor to discuss your symptoms if you are a new mother experiencing:

  • Arm, back, neck, or jaw pain
  • Cold sweats or nausea
  • Dry cough
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Severe fatigue
  • Severe headaches
  • Swollen feet or ankles

Diagnosing Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy are more likely to affect women who have experienced high blood pressure or related problems, like preeclampsia, during pregnancy. But it can happen to any woman, which is why regular blood pressure readings are key to its diagnosis and treatment.

After your baby’s delivery, your doctor will ask that you continue taking blood pressure readings once or twice a day. This will help your doctor identify your patterns of high blood pressure.

As part of a diagnosis, your doctor will also assess you for risks, including:

  • Pregnancy-related hypertension
  • Preexisting medical problems such as diabetes or chronic high blood pressure
  • Lifestyle patterns involving diet, activity, smoking, drug and alcohol use, and stress levels
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Prior treatments such as chemotherapy or hormone replacement therapy

If you experience ongoing high blood pressure after delivery, you may need blood and urine tests to help your doctor confirm your condition. You also may require tests to evaluate your heart, such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), echocardiogram, or a stress test.

Contact Us

You or your doctor can request an appointment with the UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program. Call 412-641-8870, option 0.

UPMC Magee Postpartum Hypertension Program
UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
300 Halket St., Suite 5102
Pittsburgh, PA  15213

How Is Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension Treated at UPMC?

It is important to meet regularly with your obstetrician or family doctor after having your baby so your blood pressure and other vitals can be monitored. You should also check your own blood pressure at least once or twice a day.

Because hypertension can continue long after having a baby, women who are diagnosed with high blood pressure before, during, or after pregnancy can schedule an appointment with the UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program at UPMC Magee. It is the only program in western Pennsylvania offering comprehensive and specialized care for pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Patients in the program meet with both a cardiologist from the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute and a maternal fetal medicine specialist from UPMC Magee. They bring special training and expertise in caring for women with postpartum hypertension.

How Long Does Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension Last?

Pregnancy-induced hypertension can last up to six months after delivery, which is why early diagnosis and treatment offer the best possible care and outcomes

Contact Us

You or your doctor can request an appointment with the UPMC Postpartum Hypertension Program. Call 412-641-8870, option 0.

UPMC Magee Postpartum Hypertension Program
UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
300 Halket St., Suite 5102
Pittsburgh, PA  15213