Pregnancy causes your body to go through some amazing changes. While most are crucial, it is important to be aware of the changes that can cause harm to you or your baby. Regular prenatal checkups are key to ensuring a healthy pregnancy and avoiding any complications. Although these quick office visits may seem simple and routine, your doctor is watching for signs of possible problems such as hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Hypertension affects many new mothers during pregnancy, and after childbirth, and if ignored, this uncontrolled high blood pressure can put mothers at a greater risk for heart disease later in life.
There are four types of hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP):
- Chronic hypertension – high blood pressure pre-dating pregnancy or diagnosed before 20 weeks gestation.
- Gestational hypertension – high blood pressure that occurs at or after 20 weeks gestation.
- Preeclampsia – high blood pressure that occurs at or after 20 weeks gestation that may affect the mother’s organs or the baby.
- Chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia – occurs in women diagnosed with chronic high blood pressure before pregnancy, who develop worsening high blood pressure, protein in the urine or other health complications during their pregnancy.
“When preeclampsia or Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy are identified, the OB team will likely manage your blood pressure,” said Stephanie Saucier, MD, FACC, RPVI, a cardiologist and co-director of the Women’s Health Wellness Program with the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute. “Cardiologists may become involved if your blood pressure is difficult to control, or if you have other cardiovascular conditions.”
Led by Melissa Ferraro-Borgida, MD, FACC, the OB and cardiology teams at The Heart and Vascular Institute created the Post-Partum Hypertension Clinic, to better treat women diagnosed with severe hypertension and preeclampsia before, during and after pregnancy. New moms will be referred to the specialty for follow-up monitoring and care with the goal being to have them seen by a cardiology specialist within 72 hours of discharge from the hospital.
High blood pressure is notoriously asymptomatic, but these symptoms may arise:
- Vision changes.
- Shortness of breath.
According to Saucier, both genetic and acquired risk factors can place women at elevated risk of preeclampsia, including but not limited to:
- Pre-existing cardiovascular disease.
- Chronic hypertension.
- Chronic kidney disease.
- Obstructive sleep apnea.
- Pre-gestational diabetes.
- Systemic lupus.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Maternal age over 35.
- Assisted reproductive technologies.
“Having a history of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy increases your risk for heart disease later in life,” said Saucier. “Establishing a relationship with your provider to optimize cardiovascular risk factors is important for future care.”
High blood pressure during pregnancy can be treated with pregnancy-safe medications. Daily aspirin is recommended for high-risk women after 12 weeks gestation – this reduces the risk of preeclampsia. Your doctor may also want you to supplement your calcium intake based on your calcium levels.
Saucier also recommends exercising 50 minutes at least three days a week to help reduce risk.