High or Low Blood Pressure can create havoc during pregnancy, and hence, it is highly advisable to monitor blood pressure during this very important period of a woman's life.
Regular Monitoring throughout Pregnancy
Throughout pregnancy, women undergo a number of regular, routine tests designed to monitor the health of both the woman and the baby. One of these tests is the regular checking of blood pressure – high blood pressure during pregnancy is one indication of a potentially life threatening condition known as pre-eclampsia. From the twentieth week of pregnancy, medical professionals will regularly check blood pressure levels and carry out urine testing – excess protein in the urine is another indication of pre-eclampsia.
Extra Blood in the System
By the third trimester of her gestation, a pregnant woman will have produced an extra two and a half pints of blood in her circulatory system – this means the heart needs to work harder than usual and is the reason many women feel much warmer than normal at this stage of their pregnancy.
The body requires extra blood in order to provide sufficient nutrition and oxygen to the growing baby via the umbilical cord and placenta – this extra blood is also necessary for removal of waste matter produced by the baby.
Progesterone and Low Blood Pressure
During the second trimester of pregnancy, many women experience feelings of light-headedness and may even faint if they have to remain standing for long periods or stand up too quickly. This is the result of the relaxing effect progesterone has on the walls of the blood vessels.
During the last trimester, medical professionals expect that blood pressure levels will return to what is normal for the individual concerned – should the blood pressure reading rise above this level during several tests the medical practitioner may consider this a matter for concern. Women with pre-existing high blood pressure can safely take their prescribed medication during pregnancy under the supervision of their health care professional.
Blood Pressure Testing during Prenatal Check-Ups
- During each pre-natal check up, the midwife or doctor will use a sphygmomanometer to check blood pressure readings. This machine will provide the doctor or midwife with two readings –
- Systolic pressure –this reading is taken as the heart beats, this is the upper number in the blood pressure result
- Diastolic – taken between beats as the heart is ‘at rest’, this is the bottom number in the resulting blood pressure reading
- This gives the medical practitioner a reading with two figures, for example 130/90. No two individuals will produce the same blood pressure reading – for this reason it is important not to compare results as this may cause unnecessary anxiety.
- A reading of between 110/70 and 120/80 is considered to be within the ‘normal’ range for a healthy individual – a blood pressure reading of more than 140/90 on two occasions within a seven day period may be considered abnormal in an individual who generally has a blood pressure reading within the normal scale. In pregnancy, this type of high blood pressure may well lead to a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia. There is very little that can be done to prevent high blood pressure during pregnancy – but any early signs of pre-eclampsia should be treated with rest and relaxation, avoiding stress is an important part of maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
Building up a Picture
During pregnancy, regular blood pressure readings will be carried out in order for the medical professionals to develop an understanding of what is a normal reading for each individual woman – a single reading may well be high for a variety of reasons including stress. Should your health care professional suspect your blood pressure is consistently high they will recommend further monitoring.
A woman who produces several higher than expected blood pressure readings will also need to have her urine tested in order to determine the levels of protein it contains – protein in the urine is another important indication of the early stages of pre-eclampsia and will mean that pre-natal visits will increase.
Pre-Eclampsia – The Facts
Pre-eclampsia is a serious medical condition affecting around one in fourteen women during the later stages of pregnancy (usually after the twentieth week), around 5% of women will develop the condition during their first pregnancy. Signs and symptoms of pre-eclampsia include the following –
- Persistent headaches
- Blurred vision
- Sudden onset of swelling in the hands and feet
- Right side pain, just below the ribs
It is essential to report any of these symptoms to the medical professional responsible for your care as, when present along with high blood pressure and protein in the urine, they may indicate a worsening of pre-eclampsia.
Blood pressure readings that are consistently high and difficult to control may necessitate a hospital stay for the individual concerned in order for the baby to be monitored and so that drugs may be administered to control the condition. In the event that the medical team suspect the baby is failing to thrive, or the health of the mother deteriorates, the baby may well be induced in order to minimise the risk of serious complications developing because of high blood pressure.
Blood pressure readings generally return to normal during the post-natal period – although other symptoms such as swelling in the hands and feet may take several weeks to subside. The new mother will continue to have regular blood pressure readings taken in order to monitor her condition before being discharged from hospital.
Successful, Stress-Free Pregnancy
There are a number of things a pregnant woman can do to ensure her pregnancy proceeds successfully –
- Always attend pre-natal appointments
- Ensure that your blood pressure and urine are checked at each appointment
- Talk to your health care professional if you feel unwell between appointments
- Do as you are told! Listen to and follow the advice your health care team give you
- In the event of extra checkups being required, or a hospital stay, remember that it is for a short time and in the best interests of you and your baby.