High blood pressure in pregnancy : What you should know!!

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

We see many pregnant patients with the diagnosis of high blood pressure in pregnancy. Most have mild disease but some may have severe disease and complications. To a Obstetrician, it is the single most important diagnosis in the antenatal period which requires regular and close monitoring. It also requires good patient counselling for a healthy and safe pregnancy.

Everytime you go for an antenatal checkup your doctor measures your blood pressure. Normal blood pressure in pregnancy or non pregnant state is a sign of good well-being.

Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by blood on the walls of arteries which are the vessels carrying pure or oxygenated blood to body parts. A blood pressure > or = 140/90 mm Hg is considered to be high. High blood pressure is called hypertension.

Types of hypertension in pregnancy

  1. Pregnancy induced hypertension or gestational hypertension or PIH

  2. Chronic hypertension

  3. Preclampsia

  4. Eclampsia

The pathology is believed to be in the placental development. Placenta is the organ of nutrients and waste exchange through blood between mother and baby.


Swelling in feet

Edema in body or puffy face

Rapid weight gain

Blurring of vision

Pain in upper abdomen



A single reading of high blood pressure cannot be stamped as hypertension. It may be elevated if you are anxious, excited, after exercise etc. Two to three readings at least a few hours or days apart are needed.

Gestational hypertension or pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH).

When high blood pressure is first detected after the 20th week of pregnancy, it is known as gestational hypertension. This type of blood pressure usually returns to normal once the baby is born. Better and frequent monitoring is required once it is detected.


When gestational hypertension is associated with one or more of the following signs, then the condition is called preeclampsia.

  • Protein (albumin)in the urine is the most important

  • Persistent headache

  • Visual problems like blurring of vision

  • Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen

It can develop till 6 weeks after delivery also.

Risk factors for preclampsia

First time moms

Elderly mother more than 35 years age

History of preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy Have chronic hypertension

Multiple pregnancies like twins



Chronic hypertension

When high blood pressure is present before pregnancy or is diagnosed before the 20th week of pregnancy, it is called chronic hypertension or essential hypertension.

It can also affect the growth of the baby.

It can be superimposed with preeclampsia and cause additional complications.

Preconceptional counseling

Before planning pregnancy in patients with chronic hypertension following points should be considered.

  • Normalize blood pressure

  • Switch to other drug which doesn't affect baby

  • Routine blood tests including kidney tests

Complications in Mother


When preeclampsia is accompanied by fits or seizures it is called eclampsia.

Multiple organ damage can occur.

Life threatening situation for mom and baby.

Immediate delivery is the answer.

It is best avoided by regular antenatal care.

Kidney damage

Like Acute renal failure may occur

Hellp syndrome

HELLP (Haemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count) syndrome is a dangerous complication.

Require Multispeciality care and immediate delivery. It may also develop in postpartum period


Placenta seperation tion due to large blood clots. Disastrous complication for mom and baby.

Recurrence in next pregnancy

Chances of recurrence are high if preeclampsia occurs before 32 weeks in first pregnancy.

Complications in Baby

If it occurs before 32 weeks chances of complications are more

Fetal growth restriction

Abnormal placentation in preeclampsia causes decreased blood supply to the baby so growth restriction.

Sudden Intrauterine death

Prematurity and problems with preterm babies


Good antenatal care and close monitoring is required depending on the case.

Apart from frequent examination by doctor and blood pressure recording, Ultrasound and doppler monitoring may be required for fetal growth, amount of fluid around baby, blood supply to baby and wellbeing.

Biophysical profile or baby heart beat testing like Nonstress test/ CTG may be advised.

Special blood tests for mom may be required.


General outline of treatment, once the patient is diagnosed with hypertension in pregnancy includes the following

  • Salt restricted diet

  • Adequate rest in left lateral position

  • Antihypertensive treatment

  • Steroid cover for fetal lung maturity

  • Delivery

If there is only a mild increase in blood pressure, and you are not close to your due date, you might

be advised to rest at home.

Rest more in left lateral position or on any side.