Simple hypertension in pregnancy, also known as gestational hypertension, is not an unusual complication of pregnancy. Gestational hypertension is merely an elevation in blood pressure that needs to be monitored, but in some cases it can develop into a more serious condition known as pregnancy-induced hypertension. It’s important to be on the lookout for signs of pregnancy-induced hypertension, as it can often be a precursor to a life-threatening pregnancy complication known as preeclampsia.
Elevated Blood Pressure
Usually you can expect a drop in your blood pressure during your pregnancy, particularly in the second trimester. Hypertension during pregnancy, however, will have the opposite effect. Your blood pressure reading consists of two numbers, one over the other. The top number is referred to as systolic and measures the blood pressure when your heart is contracting. The bottom number is referred to as diastolic and is measured while your heart is at rest.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, hypertension is defined as a combined reading of higher than 140/90, a systolic pressure above 140 and a diastolic pressure over 90. Since stress and exertion can cause temporary elevations in blood pressure, pregnancy hypertension isn’t typically diagnosed until you’ve had readings consistently higher than normal for a few doctor’s visits, or two readings much higher than normal taken at least six hours apart.
At every prenatal visit, you can expect your doctor to ask for a urine sample. This sample is tested via dipstick to look for excess protein. Spilling protein into your urine can be a sign of hypertension, indicating that your kidneys are under too much stress. If your blood pressure is high and the dip test shows traces of protein, it’s likely that your doctor will ask for a more extensive 24-hour urine collection, as the combination of high blood pressure and protein in the urine can indicate the beginning of preeclampsia.
Swelling, particularly of the face, hands and feet, are signs of pregnancy-induced hypertension. While all pregnant women experience some degree of swelling, that associated with this type of hypertension typically comes on quickly and is often be accompanied by a sudden, significant weight gain, defined by the March of Dimes as more than five pounds in a week.
Blurred vision, seeing double or seeing flashes of light or spots in the periphery of your vision are also signs of pregnancy-induced hypertension. Many women describe the spots and light phenomenon as though they are seeing sparks or sparkles out of the corner of their eye.
Painful headaches that are not relieved by acetaminophen and unexplained abdominal pain are signs of pregnancy-induced hypertension as well. They are signs much more commonly seen when hypertension is developing into preeclampsia and should be reported to your doctor immediately.
Signs of Hypertension During Pregnancy: