More pregnant women have chronic high blood pressure

Complications of high blood pressure are serious but can be prevented with proper care

A new study shows a large increase in the number of American women with chronic high blood pressure during pregnancy: an average of 6% each year over the 40 years of the study.

“High blood pressure is a concern for anyone, but it can be even more serious when that person is pregnant,” said Jamil T. Elfarra, M.D., maternal-fetal medicine physician with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “During pregnancy, it increases the risk of preeclampsia, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and even death. It also can lead to stillbirth or premature birth.”

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Chronic high blood pressure was defined in the study as a measurement of at least 140/90, either before becoming pregnant or in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The study also found the increase in number of white women with chronic high blood pressure was higher, but African American women are twice as likely to have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

“It’s important for women who are thinking of having a baby to consult an obstetrician before they become pregnant,” Dr. Elfarra said. “If there is a concern of chronic high blood pressure, we can help get it in control.

“During pregnancy, regular visits with an obstetrician are critical to catching any issues early on so that both mother and baby are as healthy as possible.”

The study did not find a cause for the increase in chronic high blood pressure, however there are conditions that can contribute to an increased risk. These include “advanced maternal age,” obesity, diabetes and renal disease. Women who are having multiple babies are also at an increased risk.

“We know that pregnancy over the age of 35 also can come with an increased risk of high blood pressure,” Dr. Elfarra said. “While you fall into a ‘high-risk’ category, it is very possible to have a healthy pregnancy as long as you’re receiving the proper care and know what symptoms to watch for.

“There are also medications that can be used in certain circumstances to decrease the risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy.”