Gestational Hypertension – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Gestational Hypertension - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

When you are pregnant, it is important to ensure that your blood pressure is under control. Whenever you go for your antenatal appointments, your doctor checks your blood pressure to see if it is under control or not, as high blood pressure can affect your health and can be a cause of concern.

If your blood pressure suddenly increases after 20 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor will then check for traces of protein in your urine, which will help him diagnose and rule out preeclampsia. If there are no traces of protein in your urine, you are more likely to be diagnosed with pregnancy-induced hypertension or gestational hypertension. It is said that around 10% of pregnancies are affected by hypertension.

What Is Pregnancy-induced Hypertension?

When your blood pressure is high during the course of your pregnancy, it is known as pregnancy-induced hypertension or PIH. This, in turn, may lead to excess protein in the urine or vascular lesions. When combined with an excessive amount of protein in the urine, known as proteinuria; hypertension could develop into preeclampsia.

The more severe your hypertension is, the more problems it is likely to cause. Its severity depends on the time when it develops. If it develops in the early stages of pregnancy, it will cause more problems. Most women, however, do not develop this condition early, but they are still more at risk of being induced into labour or of having a C-Section than those who do not suffer from hypertension.

Different Types of Gestational Hypertension

An increase in blood pressure is quite normal during pregnancy, meaning that not all kinds of blood pressure are to be worried about. However, you should not ignore if your blood pressure is high. Other than preeclampsia, there are three other types of hypertension. The three types of high blood pressure in women are as follows:

1. Chronic Hypertension

Women with chronic hypertension have high blood pressure before and even during early pregnancy. This high pressure remains even after they have delivered. The presence of pre-existing hypertension makes it more likely that you will develop preeclampsia, and the risk of developing placental abruption and fetal growth restriction is even more.

2. Gestational Hypertension

This type of hypertension develops only after week 20 of pregnancy and then goes away after delivery. This type of hypertension is characterised when a woman who was not previously suffering from high blood pressure develops high blood pressure but does not have any excess amounts of protein in the blood.

3. Chronic Hypertension with Superimposed Preeclampsia

Chronic and gestational hypertension can result in preeclampsia. However, when preeclampsia develops into someone who has chronic hypertension, it is known as chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia.

A doctor checks the blood pressure of a pregnant woman

Causes of PIH

There are many changes that a woman’s body undergoes during pregnancy and some of these may cause your blood pressure to rise. Some women are more susceptible to developing pregnancy-induced hypertension, and there are some other factors that may cause some women to be more at risk than others. The exact cause of pregnancy-induced hypertension cannot be said, but some conditions that can increase the risk of developing PIH are kidney disease, diabetes, pre-existing hypertension, etc.

Who Is At Risk?

The following women may be at the risk of developing gestational hypertension:

  • First-time moms or women who are below 20 and above 40.
  • Women whose mothers or sisters had PIH.
  • Women who are carrying twins or triplets.
  • Women who are prone to getting high blood pressure or any type of kidney disease before getting pregnant.

Symptoms of Pregnancy-induced Hypertension

Regular checkups can help you know if you have PIH; however, it is good to know what to look out for. The symptoms of gestational hypertension include:

Is Swelling a Sign of Pregnancy-induced Hypertension?

Swelling is also known as oedema in medical terms. Certain body parts swell up due to inflammation or from injuries. However, swelling alone does not mean that you have PIH. But if you notice swelling particularly in your face, hands, and feet, it is likely that you are suffering from pregnancy-induced hypertension and it is best to check with your doctor.

Swelling in pregnancy

How Is Gestational Hypertension Diagnosed?

There are no specific ways to test for this other than checking blood pressure regularly, which is a standard part of routine check-ups during pregnancy. If your blood pressure rises in high amounts, you are most likely to suffer from pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH). Should there be any kind of suspicion that PIH is present; a non-stress test is performed to check your baby’s heart rate. Your doctor may perform an ultrasound scan to check your baby’s growth.

Does PIH Affect Your Baby?

Hypertension during pregnancy can endanger your baby as it affects the flow of the blood to the placenta. If the placenta does not get enough blood, this will affect your baby as placenta filters out unwanted components from your blood and carries oxygen and nutrients to your baby. And if your baby doesn’t get enough nutrients, he could have low birth weight.

Approximately, one in every four women with PIH is likely to develop preeclampsia during pregnancy, labour, or even after a few weeks of giving birth. If you develop hypertension before your 30th week of pregnancy, the chances of your high blood pressure developing further into preeclampsia increases to 50 percent. From here, some unfortunate women go on to develop a more serious condition called eclampsia, high blood pressure accompanied by seizures, which is very dangerous for the baby. As long as you keep going for your regular check-ups, the problem will be detected early, and your health professional will be able to guide you on how best to treat yourself so as to prevent your condition from deteriorating further.

Do You Need to Undergo a C-section If You Have PIH?

Not all pregnant women will have to undergo a C-Section if they have pregnancy-induced hypertension. It depends on the magnitude of your case, which your doctor will be able to establish for you if you go for regular check-ups. If your case is not serious enough for you to need to go under the knife, your doctor will suggest treatment through medication such as oxytocin in order to start labour, enabling you to have a normal vaginal delivery. However, if your doctor feels that an intervention is needed, you may need to prepare yourself for a C-Section delivery.

Does PIH Persist After Pregnancy?

Usually, the symptoms of pregnancy-induced hypertension fade within a day or two of delivery in women who develop the condition during their pregnancy. But there are times when the symptoms may continue even after the baby is born. This is known as postpartum preeclampsia. Some women who did not suffer from PIH during their pregnancy can develop postpartum preeclampsia even up to six weeks after delivery. Some of the symptoms include a headache, decreased urine production, hypertension, and vision problems. Some methods for treatment include steroids or blood pressure medications.

Complications of Pregnancy-induced Hypertension

One of the main issues with developing pregnancy-induced hypertension is that it can negatively affect the health, development, and sometimes even the life of your baby. Due to the flow of blood being compromised, the placenta will not be able to deliver the correct amount of oxygen and nutrients to your baby in order for healthy growth and development. This often causes the baby to be born with low birth weight and sometimes with other types of birth defects. Here are some more complications that can arise due to pregnancy-induced hypertension:

  • The placenta can pull away from the walls of the uterus causing maternal bleeding and distress the foetus. This is known as placental abruption.
  • Temporary kidney failure.
  • Seizures in the mother.
  • Blood clotting problems.
  • Problems with the liver.
  • Preterm delivery of a premature baby.

How to Treat Pregnancy-induced Hypertension

Though it may sound scary, most women who have been diagnosed with pregnancy induced hypertension go on to deliver healthy and happy babies as it is possible to keep your blood pressure in check. The treatment for pregnancy-induced hypertension are as follows:

1. Treatment for Chronic Hypertension

If you are already suffering from hypertension and are currently on medication, your doctor may want you to continue with it. However, if the medication proves to be harmful to your baby, your doctor will suggest a different medication for you to switch to during your pregnancy. Your doctor will also need to closely monitor how your baby is growing, and this may result in more ultrasounds than you would normally have. As you reach the final stage of your pregnancy, you may need to undergo a few other tests in order to ensure your baby is healthy.

2. Treatment for Gestational Hypertension

While it is completely normal for your blood pressure to increase during pregnancy, your doctor will still need to keep a check on it as it can very easily develop into a more serious form of the condition such as preeclampsia or eclampsia. Your doctor will pay attention to your baby’s growth and your blood pressure levels to ensure that the problem of high blood pressure does not develop into pregnancy-induced hypertension.

3. Treatment for Pregnancy-induced Hypertension

In the case of PIH, your doctor will decide to treat this condition based on how close you are to your due date. The only treatment that can effectively stop PIH is to deliver the baby, but this is not a wise move as it can cause your baby to have some serious health problems. The only time a doctor will truly insist on early delivery is if you or your baby is sick. Your healthcare consultant may suggest that you take time off work if you are still working, as rest is important during this time, particularly, if you have PIH.

How Is PIH Managed?

Due to a family history of diabetes or preeclampsia, your doctor may come to the conclusion that you are at a higher risk of developing PIH and may suggest the following:

  • You may be asked to visit your doctor on a more frequent basis as your blood pressure and condition will need to be monitored very closely for any signs of a negative change.
  • You will need to consistently watch your weight and blood pressure.
  • Your doctor may prescribe a form of medication that will be safe for your baby and which will prevent you from developing preeclampsia.

Can You Prevent PIH?

High blood pressure and obesity are two of the leading factors that may result in hypertension during pregnancy. It is not easy to say how one health problem can lead to so many others and so it is very important to always keep yourself in shape through exercise, and by staying hydrated and eating good food. You will also need to rest a lot and not miss out on any of your routine check-ups.

Preventive Tips for PIH

If you are not yet close to your due date and your PIH is not severe, there are some tips that you can incorporate into your life that may help prevent PIH.

  • Take Rest
    If you are working, you need to make an effort to take a break every couple of hours. Getting proper rest at home can do wonders for you. Never sit or stand continuously for long periods of time. Make sure that you get to lie down for a little while and be sure to lie down on your left side as this reduces the pressure on your blood vessels.
  • Keep Your Weight Under Control
    Consult an expert who can guide you about the exercises that you can do while pregnant. Being overweight is a common factor for developing PIH in pregnant women.
  • Cut Down on Salt
    As bland as saltless food tastes; it is important for you to have a little of it as possible. This is because less salt will improve your blood pressure as well as prevent you from developing a more serious version of it.A pregnant woman drinking water
  • Stay Hydrated
    A minimum of eight ounces a day is an absolute must for pregnant women whether or not you are suffering from hypertension or PIH. Drinking lots of water are very good at helping to control blood pressure.
  • Eat Foods Rich in Vitamin C
    Increase the amount of vitamin C some way or the other as it can help in stabilizing your blood pressure. Include more oranges and lemons in your diet. You can also drink a glass of warm water mixed with lemon and honey.
  • Follow a Balanced Diet
    Ensure that whatever you eat is fresh. Avoid canned foods; it will make a huge difference and keep your blood pressure in control. Also, avoid starchy foods or to at least consume them in moderation, as they can lead to weight gain, which can lead to many other problems during pregnancy.
  • Try Breathing Exercises
    Stress is one of the main causes of hypertension. This is why it is so important to learn a few breathing exercises as these can help you relax your body and in turn, help you control your blood pressure. Breathing deeply helps regulate oxygen-rich blood and distribute it to every cell in your body. You can do this in any position you are comfortable in, but it is recommended you do it at least twice a day for fifteen minutes.
  • Go for a Walk
    While it may seem daunting, going for a 40 to 45-minute walk will really help you to control your blood pressure as it keeps the blood circulating. Heavy exercises are not good for those who suffer from very high blood pressure, which is why walking is the safest and most beneficial way to exercise at this point.
  • Stretch
    Stretching is a great way to regulate blood flow and manage the stress levels in your life. Not just that, but it does leave you feeling better physically.

Home Remedies for PIH

If you have PIH, there are some things you can do at home to reduce the hypertension. However, do check with your doctor before trying these home remedies.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Have a glass of warm water mixed with one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, a few drops of honey, and two teaspoons of lemon juice. This helps lower your blood pressure.
  • Leafy Greens: Include a lot of leafy greens like kale, lettuce, and spinach in your daily diet. They contain potassium, which helps your kidneys eliminate excess sodium from your body, thereby lowering your blood pressure.
  • Bananas: Bananas also contain potassium, which helps reduce blood pressure. Have some bananas with oatmeal for the ideal low-sodium, high-fibre breakfast that will keep high blood pressure at bay.
  • Beetroot: Beets contain nitric oxide that widens your blood vessels and reduces blood pressure. You can have beetroot in the form of juice, salad or a stir-fried side-dish.
  • Magnesium-rich foods: Magnesium-rich foods can help lower blood pressure. Include foods like almonds, avocados, soy milk, and seeds like sunflower and pumpkin in your diet to reduce blood pressure.

Pregnancy is a time when women are already experiencing changes in their bodies due to the hormonal changes taking place on the inside. These changes are necessary and happen so that your body can prepare itself for a new life. This is why pregnant women often have many restrictions on their diet and are often advised to rest enough and get a certain amount of exercise on a daily basis. You should eat healthy foods. Furthermore, it is suggested that you ask your doctor about your diet. Ask what is good and what you should avoid and have a healthy pregnancy!

Also Read: Natural Remedies to Manage High BP during Pregnancy