BY NOVANT HEALTH
One common misconception is that high blood pressure rarely affects women. However, nearly half of all adults with high blood pressure are women.
While high blood pressure isn’t directly related to gender, throughout a woman’s life, events like pregnancy, menopause and others can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure.
Dr. Lewis D. Lipscomb, a physician leader with Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Women’s & Children’s Institute, helped explain the different types of high blood pressure women may experience during pregnancy.
Long-term, uncontrolled high blood pressure, known as chronic hypertension, is a serious condition associated with heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Hypertension officially begins with a consistent blood pressure reading exceeding 130/80 and can go higher than 180/120 to be a hypertensive crisis.
“We’re seeing a rise nationally in women who have hypertension before becoming pregnant,” Lipscomb said. “Because obesity is becoming more common and women are having babies at an older age, many women are at risk of developing hypertension.”
The effects of high blood pressure can range from mild to severe. Hypertension can harm the mother’s kidneys and other organs, as well as cause low birth weight and early delivery for the baby.
“Most cases of hypertension are preventable. When prevention is not possible, early detection is key,” said Lipscomb. “We recommend annual wellness screenings and preconception counseling as ways to detect and manage hypertension before or at the start of a pregnancy.”
Lipscomb stressed that healthy pregnancies are still possible for women with a history of chronic hypertension when the condition is properly managed.
Although some women experience hypertension prior to pregnancy, the most common form of hypertension Dr. Lipscomb sees is gestational hypertension, where women with no previous history of hypertension develop high blood pressure after the twentieth week of pregnancy.
The gravest form of hypertension in pregnancy is preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that typically develops in the third trimester and involves increased blood pressure, fluid retention, and protein in the mother’s urine. Preeclampsia can risk the lives of both the mother and the baby.
According to Lipscomb, risk factors for preeclampsia include having had a first pregnancy during one’s teenage years or after the age of 40, having a history of preeclampsia in earlier pregnancies and having hypertension prior to pregnancy. He added that diabetes and kidney disease can increase your risk as well.
With preeclampsia, blood pressure can increase quickly, leading to a number of life-threatening complications, including seizures, stroke, breathing problems, impaired fetal growth and stillbirth.
The treatment for preeclampsia depends on the stage of the pregnancy and often requires hospitalization. Unfortunately, preeclampsia does not resolve during pregnancy. For that reason, close monitoring of the mother and the baby is necessary until delivery and should include follow up for six to eight weeks following the birth.
Pregnancy can be stressful, especially for women facing hypertension or other medical conditions. Consistent prenatal care is important for the health of both mother and child.
“Prenatal care should be a partnership,” said Lipscomb. “Regardless of your age, whether it’s your first pregnancy or your fifth, the most important decision expectant mothers make is choosing a provider they trust to guide them safely through the pregnancy.”
For pregnancy advice from other moms and experts, visit NovantHealth.org/Pregnancy.
Novant Health is proud to be the American Heart Association’s Life Is Why and Go Red for Women Sponsor in Forsyth County celebrating all women in Forsyth County, supporting women wherever they may be in their journey, and encouraging women to put their health first. For more information, visit NovantHealth.org/HeartAge.