Why is it dangerous?
High blood pressure during pregnancy can lead to serious complications. If left untreated, it can cause immunological illness: pre-eclampsia and eclampsia (the more advanced, serious form). This can affect the liver, placenta, brain, cardiovascular system and hormonal system. It usually occurs in the 3rd trimester and can cause premature birth. The reasons for eclampsia are not really known; however three factors could play a part. Eclampsia can be caused by the placenta, it could be genetic or even the mother and her environment could be the source. Pregnant women with a history of high blood pressure prior to pregnancy should be monitored carefully.
What are the symptoms of pre-eclampsia?
Aside from high blood pressure itself, the symptoms are sudden and severe: swelling (oedema) because the kidneys are affected and protein ‘leaks’ away into the urine, plus neurological difficulties such as visual disturbance, headaches and/or dizziness.
Swelling in pregnancy can be quite normal, however if it is concentrated more around your face, your midwife is likely to be concerned. You may also experience a pain around your middle (epigastric pain), similar to that pain experienced with indigestion.
The best way to prevent eclampsia is to attend regular antenatal appointments and have your blood pressure and urine monitored. If there is any concern, blood samples will be taken to check your internal organs are working properly. Your liver functions are likely to be impaired. Other monitoring, such as CTG monitoring of your baby's activity or ultrasound scans to check the blood flow to and from your placenta, may also be necessary.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to gradually lower blood pressure. If the condition becomes severe, the only remedy is delivery of your baby and placenta.
You can take some easy prevention measures yourself by making good diet and lifestyle choices: balanced low-calorie meals and regular exercise. Monitoring your blood pressure yourself will help you to react to problems. Devices are on sale in many chemists should you want to monitor this yourself. Be aware of your health, particularly in the latter weeks of your pregnancy. If you have any headaches, visual disturbances, epigastric pain or reduction in your baby's movements, telephone your antenatal unit for further advice.