Gestational hypertension is the medical name given to high blood pressure in pregnancy. It’s something that an increasing number of pregnant women seem to be suffering from, possibly as average body weights increase. Gestational hypertension needs to be checked out by your doctor, as it can be associated with a more serious problem called pre-eclampsia.
Gestational Hypertension: How Common is it?
High pregnancy blood pressure is fairly common among all populations and ethnic types across the world. It’s sometimes regarded as a disease of modern societies and lifestyles but genetic and other factors play an important part as well. If you are overweight then there’s a greater risk of developing high blood pressure during your pregnancy. Some doctors or midwives will measure your BMI (Body Mass Index) to determine how much fat you’re carrying and they can use this, along with routinely measuring blood pressure, to help predict whether you might be at risk or not. The earlier in pregnancy it occurs, too, the higher the risk of getting pre-eclampsia later on.
Recent TV programmes have suggested that women in certain Asian countries, notably India, may have a higher risk of heart attack, high blood pressure and pregnancy complications that can result in low birth weight babies. It was thought that pregnancy diet had a lot to do with this increased risk. There is still a lot of research needed to confirm whether or not this is true but any woman who knows she has or had a close family member with heart disease, or who starts to show symptoms of high blood pressure (see below), should get this checked out with her doctor.
How likely am I to get high blood pressure while pregnant?
Well, if you haven’t had any problems with blood pressure before getting pregnant, then you’re less likely to suffer from gestational hypertension. If your pregnancy weight gain is normal, that is another factor in your favour.
Attending antenatal checkups is an excellent way of keeping an eye on your pregnancy blood pressure,
As it will be routinely taken at every visit. If it isn’t, then request that it is. Don’t be afraid to ask what the readings are. Some nurses and doctors have a tendency to take your blood pressure and then say nothing. Usually this means that it’s a normal blood pressure reading but in order to put your mind at rest, it’s worth knowing a little about the process so that you can ask questions. The nurse, doctor or midwife taking your blood pressure usually uses a machine called a sphygmomanometer (try saying that quickly!), though calling it a blood pressure guage or blood pressure monitor is a lot easier.
Your blood pressure is usually taken as you sit in a chair but sometimes you may be invited to lie on the couch. Wearing a loose sleeved or sleeveless top is a good idea, as the doctor or midwife will wrap a fabric cuff around your upper arm and then inflate it by pumping a little air into it. The sensation of tightmess as it inflates can be a little weird the first time or so but it doesn’t hurt at all. The more you can relax during this process, the more accurate the reading will be. In fact, sometimes your blood pressure will come out as being higher than normal simply because being in a doctor’s surgery or a medical office is more stressful for many of us. So knowing that it won’t hurt and that it is very necessary to keep you and your baby healthy should make you feel a little more relaxed, hopefully. The medic will pump up the sleeve, listen for the moment when they can hear the pulse, then start to slowly let the air out again, still monitoring your pulse with a stethoscope.
There are two pressures being measured:
The diastolic and the systolic. When the nurse first hears the pulse, that is the systolic blood pressure measurement. When she can no longer hear it, that’s the diastolic measurement. Written down, they look like a fraction, with the systolic one on top. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and ideally the systolic reading for an adult will be between 90 and 119, whilst the diastolic reading will be between 60 and 79. Anything outside these ranges may suggest either hypotension (low blood pressure) or hypertension (high blood pressure). How far out the readings are determines whether or not you will need any treatment. Knowing that you have gestational hypertension is very difficult without monitoring, because there are few symptoms. This is what makes high pregnancy blood pressure a potentially dangerous condition, as you can have it without realising. Sleeplessness, headache and confusion might indicate hypertension but they could just as easily be caused by something totally different.
The only way to know is to get a check up, or to have your own blood pressure monitor that you use at home.
Studies have shown very clearly that people who have their own Blood Pressure Monitor are less likely to suffer from complications of high blood pressure and gestational hypertension – or, for that matter, problems caused by low blood pressure. One of the clearest and easiest to use is the Lumiscope Talking Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor, Automatic Inflation which makes the whole process very quick – so you’re more likely to enjoy taking your own blood pressure. If you decide to buy a blood pressure monitor to use during pregnancy, be sure to look through the reviews to ensure you get the best one for your situation.
It may be that other family members will benefit from it too. I recently bought the somewhat simpler Omron Blood Pressure Monitor shown below and we all find it very easy to use.We tested the whole family and there were one or two surprises: my husband turns out to have really low blood pressure, which maybe accounts for why he feels dizzy sometimes, whilst a friend was shocked to find his blood pressure dangerously high. He’d always thought of himself as very fit and active, so you never know, finding this out in his twenties rather than later on may have saved his life! So – what if your blood pressure is higher than it should be? Your doctor will advise whether you need to take medication, or sometimes he or she may advise trying structured relaxation or changing your diet to eat more of the foods that lower blood pressure. Such lifestyle adjustments can make a big difference to your blood pressure readings, so are well worth trying.