Pregnancy puts extra demands on your heart and circulatory system, which can raise your blood pressure. Some women develop preeclampsia, a type of hypertension (high blood pressure), during pregnancy. This serious condition can affect women for up to six weeks after childbirth. You can develop preeclampsia even if you don’t have a history of high blood pressure. If you have any of the symptoms, it’s essential to seek help quickly.

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What Is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is hypertension that’s unique to pregnant women and those who have recently given birth. The Preeclampsia Foundation says it commonly occurs after the twentieth week of pregnancy. But, it can persist after delivery, and you can still develop it up to six weeks after your baby is born. In fact, the risk is highest in the seven days after you give birth. When you develop this type of hypertension after pregnancy, it’s called postpartum preeclampsia.

Although blood pressure problems affect only about 10% of all pregnancies, they’re extremely serious and put you and your baby at risk. Hypertension affects the blood supply to the placenta, which can affect the growth of your baby. In some instances, it can cause stillbirth. While your baby is no longer at risk after the delivery, postpartum preeclampsia can still affect your organs. It also can cause a stroke or even death.

Pregnancy hypertension can strike even if you have no history of high blood pressure. That’s why it’s important to have regular prenatal and postpartum checkups to monitor your blood pressure and weight. It’s also essential to follow your health care provider’s recommendations on ways to minimize your risk.

Symptoms of Pregnancy-Related High Blood Pressure

Normal blood pressure is 130/80. If yours is high, your doctor may ask you to check it at home. If you notice that it’s 140/90 or higher, call your health care provider to let them know. This is especially important if you see high readings in the first few days after your baby is born. Blood pressure peaks three to six days after you deliver so that’s the time of greatest risk for postpartum preeclampsia.

It’s important to know the symptoms of high blood pressure after pregnancy. They include:

  • Severe and persistent headaches
  • Vision changes
  • Stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • Swelling in your hands and face

You should call 911 or get to an emergency department immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Blood pressure of 160/110 or higher
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion or change in mental status

High blood pressure requires treatment with medicines. If it’s over 160/110, your doctor may want you in the hospital until it improves.

Postpartum Hypertension and Heart Disease Risk

Medical experts aren’t exactly sure what causes preeclampsia or how to prevent it. Fortunately, it usually resolves on its own within 12 weeks after delivery. But having preeclampsia during or after pregnancy increases your risk of developing high blood pressure as you get older. One study found that 41.5% of women with preeclampsia had high blood pressure one year after giving birth. Preeclampsia can also be an early sign of heart disease.

To reduce your risk of heart disease, take these steps to stay healthy and manage your blood pressure:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week
  • Limit alcohol to one drink a day or less
  • Eat foods every day that help reduce blood pressure, including colorful fruits and vegetables, high-fiber legumes, whole grains, and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil
  • Choose fresh, whole, unprocessed foods over fast food, fried foods, and salty snack foods. You don’t have to restrict sodium other than limiting processed foods
  • Quit smoking or vaping
  • Talk to your health care provider to see if you need blood pressure medicine

New moms are often more focused on taking care of their newborn rather than themselves. However, hypertension after pregnancy can be serious — even life-threatening. It’s important to recognize the symptoms, seek help immediately, and do all you can to stay healthy.

Sources

Preeclampsia Foundation. Postpartum Preeclampsia: Moms Are Still at Risk After Delivery. https://www.preeclampsia.org/stillatrisk

Canadian Medical Association Journal. Postpartum Hypertension. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5505758/

Hypertension. Blood Pressure Profile 1 Year After Severe Preeclampsia. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.117.10338

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long renowned for its services to women and babies, but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and the hospital’s NICU is one of the largest in the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.